7 Common Signs of Sleep Deprivation You Shouldn't Ignore
In our always-on society, there's great temptation, and even pressure, to shortchange sleep. In fact, there's a real misconception that sleep deprivation is some kind of heroic feat, a boast worthy indication of how hard you work, how early you can wake up, how little sleep you (think) you need, how active and social and busy you are.
But sleep isn't just a cozy reward after a long day—and it's certainly not a sign of laziness or weakness. Sufficient sleep—which for adults is defined as getting at least seven hours per night by the CDC—is an absolutely vital driver of every physiological system in the human body. When we're sleep deprived—which more than one third of adults are—our health and wellbeing can suffer in myriad ways: mental, physical, and emotional.
You don't need to have pulled an all-nighter, or find yourself falling asleep mid-sentence, to be considered technically sleep deprived. In fact, you may not even realize you're not getting enough sleep, because you might not feel particularly tired. There are many less obvious signs of sleep deprivation that go beyond yawning, nodding off at your desk, or having heavy eyelids. But getting less than seven hours of sleep a night is all it takes, and the effects are subtle, but cumulative. In his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, professor and director of UC Berkeley's Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, Matthew Walker, PhD, describes scientific research that concludes: sleeping for only six hours a night for 10 days can make you as impaired as someone who's been awake for 24 consecutive hours.
To avoid long-term health issues and improve your day-to-day life, here's how to identify seven sneaky signs of sleep deprivation.
In case it hasn't been made clear, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, and increasingly, pre-bedtime use of tablets, phones, and other screens appears to be an important factor contributing to our collective slept debt, according to Hale. Late-evening use of screens not only suppresses the normal rise in melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep, but it revs us up when we should be winding down, says Hale: "Whether you're watching TV or engaging in social media, the experience can be very psychologically stimulating, increasing alertness and making it harder to fall asleep. Powering down before bedtime is so important." Try reading, journaling, stretching, or meditating to help your mind and body wind down before lights out.
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