Sleep is a key pillar of healthy living and disease prevention, with three elements including adequate length, good quality, and correct timing.
Sleep deprivation can be defined as the partial or almost total absence of sleep.
Issues with these elements of sleep create a wide range of harmful health situations, including depression, hypertension, glucose deregulation, cardiovascular diseases, anxiety disorders, and infertility.
Psychological and cardiovascular processes are particularly vulnerable to sleep deprivation (Cappuccio and Miller, 2017).
For instance, chronic disturbance of sleep duration has become a leading risk factor for metabolic syndromes.
We live in a sleep-deprived era with an average sleep duration of 6.8 hours per day compared to 9 hours observed a century ago.
Many adults sleep less than 6 hours per night due to insomnia and behavior-associated sleep disturbances.
One size fits all sleep recommendations are helpful starting points for surveillance, medical intervention, and public education. However, recent research evidence shows that sleep needs vary from one individual to another.
Different age groups have different sleep needs, with some groups at higher risk of insufficient sleep and associated health complications.
How much sleep do you need by age?
Studies have characterized the changes across ages in the quantity and timing of sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a breakdown of sleep requirements by age:
In addition to the duration of sleep, the CDC also recommends good quality sleep as part of the requirement for improved health and well-being.
Many older persons experience issues related to the duration of sleep, including falling asleep, remaining asleep at the correct depth, and waking too early. Some factors that cause sleep disturbances in old age are:
Shifting sleep schedule
Aging can alter the body’s clock in a phase advance. This shift changes the timing and duration of sleep, leading to inadequate sleep.
Waking up at night
The quality of sleep is related to how people cycle through the different stages of sleep. More senior people often experience changes in how they cycle through these sleep stages.
They spend more time in the earlier, lighter stages of sleep and less time in the deeper stages, increasing the risk of more fragmented sleep.
More older adults take daytime naps than younger adults. Short daytime naps may be beneficial, but extended napping can create night-time sleep disruptions. It can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime.
Longer recovery from sleep disruption
Changes in how the body controls its internal clock makes it more difficult to adjust to sudden sleep disruptions. For example, older people may take longer to recover when experiencing jet lag.
By managing the above issues, adults could reduce disruption to their sleep and avoid the health issues associated with inadequate sleep.
What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?
- Reduced alertness – Missing little sleep or disrupting the overall pattern can change your feelings.
- Daytime sleepiness – Short-term sleep deprivation can make you tired and sleepy during the day.
- Stress – Lack of sleep can affect the balance of hormones in our body, making you more likely to be stressed.
- Quality of life – Disruptions to your normal function due to inadequate sleep can impact your ability to participate in everyday activities.
- Increased risk of accidents – Drowsiness, tiredness, and reduced alertness account for thousands of accidents and injuries each year.
Long-term sleep deprivation can cause more severe health problems, including immune, metabolic, memory, and reproductive functions.
- Immune function – Sleep and the body’s internal clock work together to regulate immune processes. Immune activities during early sleep support the formation of long-lasting immunological memories. In contrast, prolonged sleep deprivation and the associated physiological stress cause inflammation and immunodeficiency.
- Metabolic function – can be altered by both sleep duration and sleep quality. Experimental studies show that inadequate sleep can impair insulin sensitivity and secretion, leading to glucose homeostasis and weight regulation issues. Chronic sleep deprivation also affects hormones that regulate appetite/satiety and energy homeostasis. Therefore, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to obesity and diabetes through metabolic disturbances.
- Memory function – Sleep is associated with neurological changes that regulate learning and memory. Experimental observations demonstrate that sleep is necessary to consolidate new memory traces. Chronic sleep deprivation reduces our memory skills and impairs learning.
- Reproductive function – Our reproductive function is controlled by sex hormones secreted in synergy with the body’s internal clock. Sleep patterns underpin the synthesis, secretion, and metabolisms of these hormones. Thus, sleep deprivation is increasingly linked to infertility among men and women.
8 tips to get more sleep
Sleep hygiene (good sleep habits) can help you get more sleep during bedtime. The practices described below have been shown to improve sleep health:
1) Allow time for enough sleep
It is important to schedule adequate time for sleep. It is common for adults to sleep late and wake early, but this habit can quickly develop into sleep deprivation.
2) Keep a consistent sleep pattern
Try to sleep and wake at the same time every day, including on the weekend. A fixed sleep-wake cycle helps you sleep better.
3) Include a relaxing activity in your bedtime ritual
It is helpful to include a relaxing activity such as taking a bath or reading in your bedtime ritual. Having a bedtime ritual can help you associate these activities with sleep, making it easy to fall asleep.
4) Comfortable bedroom
Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature to allow you to sleep.
5) Remove mobile phones and tablets
The light from mobile devices can trick your brain into activity when it should be winding down for sleep – putting away mobile devices at least one hour before bedtime is a good idea (Suganuma et al., 2007).
6) Avoid the clock when you wake up at night
It is normal to wake up at night but avoid the temptation of looking at the time or planning what you must do the next day.
7) Avoid certain food habits
Large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime can make falling or staying asleep harder.
8) Physical activity
Good physical activity during the day can help you sleep easily and better at night (Kredlow et al., 2015).
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Sleep deprivation is associated with many short and long-term health problems. Though individual needs may vary, the recommendation suggests that most adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per 24 hours for optimal health.
Just like we prioritize diet and physical activity, healthy sleep deserves attention. This aspect is important because unhealthy sleep habits are associated with sleep deprivation, leading to serious health complications.