Everything from substance abuse to medications to clinical sleep disorders can contribute to the development of dangerous sleep deprivation. Below, are some lifestyle causes of sleep deprivation as well as some tips on how to get a better night's sleep.
One of the main causes of sleep deprivation is stress. The link between stress and sleep is deep and can sometimes be a self-perpetuating cycle: If you are stressed, you can't sleep, and lack of sleep makes you more stressed.
The body and brain are not built to endure hours upon hours of stress day in and day out. Yet that is often what we ask our bodies to do. But unfortunately, today we live at a much faster pace than any generation before us.
The body and brain need time to recuperate and regenerate. Allowing too much stress during the day can make the body forget how to relax, even at night when you're exhausted from the day's events. It is similar to a baby being "overtired," and is not good for healthy sleep. Be sure to avoid daily stressors and take time to eat properly and take brain breaks throughout your day.
WDiet is one often overlooked sleep deprivation cause. Eating a balanced diet is essential to overall health and sleep. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, while avoiding fried foods and sugars, is optimum. Your body is still working while asleep and needs the proper nutrients to accomplish all of the delicate organizational tasks in your brain. Not eating properly can also affect your sleep patterns by creating problems such as obesity, which raises the odds of developing sleep apnea, or heartburn and related digestive problems that can prevent a sound night's sleep.
Caffeine – found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola and energy drinks – can also contribute to poor sleep. The best rule of thumb is not to overdo it during the day and to avoid caffeine in the evening hours. It takes less than an hour for caffeine to begin affecting the body and a mild dose wears off in three to four hours.1 Caffeine revs your body up while taxing your adrenal system, creating artificial energy. Too much of a good thing can lead to sleep issues. In order to ease caffeine-related causes of sleep deprivation, doctors recommend drinking no more than 200 mg (about two cups of coffee) per day. They also suggest limiting your caffeine intake to morning hours.
Alcohol and drug use, drug abuse and drug withdrawals have all been linked as being causes of sleep deprivation and disorders. However, since chemicals work differently in each human body, their effects can differ from person to person, making it difficult to determine exactly how much a certain drug can impact a person's sleep.
It may seem that alcohol might help induce sleep since it is a depressant. While this may be marginally true here and there, overuse of alcohol can impair sleep.
Alcohol can cause a person to sleep less deeply and have more restless sleep. And the use of alcohol as a relaxant will likely only work a few times; the body becomes quickly desensitized, requiring more and more alcohol to accomplish the same sleep-inducing effect. This is why alcohol should never be relied on as a sleep aid.
Additionally, substance abuse of any kind, including alcohol, can alter body chemistry drastically. When the body is not operating normally, sleep will be impacted. Drugs and alcohol induce highs and lows that inhibit the body's natural ability to regulate itself, whether awake or asleep.
Smoking has been found not only to disrupt sleep but also to reduce total sleep time. In studies, smokers have described more daytime drowsiness than nonsmokers.
If you're a smoker experiencing sleep issues, you might consider quitting smoking all together, though experts warn that sleep disruptions stemming from nicotine may not be resolved overnight. Talk to your physician to see if he or she can prescribe a medicine to help you overcome symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
Another sleep deprivation cause is travel. Many people travel quite often for work or leisure. Jetting off to a distant locale can be great for work or play, but it can be hard on your body. Traveling on a plane can alter a person's sleep habits just by introducing unusual circumstances to a daily routine. A nap might be taken on a long flight, or a poor night's sleep might be endured on a red-eye flight.
People also have internal clocks that run on 24-hour intervals known as circadian rhythms. When a person travels to another time zone, this biological mechanism takes a little while to catch up, throwing off sleep patterns.
You can minimize the effects of jetlag and travel by doing some of the following: Bring earplugs, an eye mask and a special head pillow for the plane. Set your watch to your destination time when you board the plane. Try to get as much sunlight as you can when you arrive to help reset your body‘s clock.
Overwork and shift work can take a toll on the body‘s 24-hour internal body clock or circadian rhythm. Some people can cope with shift work, while the ongoing manipulation of the body clock can be too hard on others. People suffering from symptoms of work-related insomnia may find themselves falling asleep at work, while watching television or while driving. Rates of car accidents are higher than normal among night-shift workers, a group who are at a high risk for symptoms of insomnia.
A healthy, nourishing sleep starts with the right sleep environment. Use a pillow and a mattress that are comfortable for your body type. Be sure your bed is big enough to stretch out comfortably, especially if you have a sleep partner. Consider making your bed off-limits to your children and your pets; their sleep patterns may be different from your own and may affect your sleep.
If watching the clock makes you anxious about sleep, turn the clock so you can't see it, or put it in a drawer.
Reduce the noise in the house, or mask it with a steady low noise, such as a fan on slow speed or a radio tuned to static. Use comfortable earplugs if you need them.
Maintain a comfortable temperature in the bedroom. Extreme temperatures may disrupt sleep or prevent you from falling asleep. It‘s best to try to keep the room cool and dark. If you can't darken the room, use a sleep mask. If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body‘s internal biological clock reset itself each day.2
Disclaimer: Statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These statements and products are not intended to diagnose, treat and cure or prevent disease.