We all experience lack of sleep at some point in our lives. For some people, it is an almost daily occurrence caused by long working hours, a crying baby or environmental disturbances. In these cases the lack of sleep is due to external factors. However, there are times where lack of sleep occurs for no clearly identifiable external reason. Instead the problem lies with a person’s sleep cycle and often with the nervous system that is unable to “shutdown” to allow for sufficient rest.
Defining Lack of Sleep
Sleep is a crucial part of daily life to maintain health and wellbeing. Insufficient sleep can have serious effects, some of which can be life threatening. However, there is some degree of variation in the amount of sleep that is required among individuals. A lack of sleep refers to sleeping for less than the required duration that is restful and rejuvenating.
Read more on insufficient sleep.
Although duration is important, the quality of sleep is equally important. The general rule is that adults require approximately 8 hours of sleep daily. This is globally accepted as the ideal duration, give or take 1 hour. Some adults may find that 6 hours of sleep is sufficient for their physiologic needs. However, this is uncommon.
People who claim to be able to sustain themselves on 5 hours of sleep or less in a 24 hour period usually experience some of the effects of sleep deprivation. Even if a person sleeps for 7 hours or more, disturbances in the REM and non-REM cycles as well as awaking for whatever reason and returning to sleep will also experiences the effects of lack of sleep.
How to Spot Lack of Sleep
Most of us believe that we would know if we did not have sufficient sleep. However, this is not always the case. We may not have kept track of the time we slept or even forget awaking during sleep. As a result the symptoms of lack of sleep seems to be confusing and not immediately associated with insufficient sleep.
It is also important to remember that poor quality sleep can also be a problem despite a suitable period of sleeping. Most people will describe the physical, mental and emotional effects of lack of sleep as “not feeling like themselves” although they are not always able to identify the exact symptoms.
Read more on signs of insomnia.
One of the most common and obvious symptoms of a lack of sleep is awaking fatigued. Sleep is a period of rest and rejuvenation and most of the time we should awaken feeling refreshed and energetic after sleeping for a sufficient period of time.
Sometimes a person may awaken tired if the preceding day was physically and mentally strenuous and this is not abnormal. However, if a person awakens with extreme tiredness on a regular basis with no other possible cause then it may be a sign of a lack of sleep.
Exertion, whether physical or mental, eventually leads to tiredness. This is the reason that most of us feel energetic in the morning after a proper night’s sleep and tired by the afternoon or evening after a strenuous day. It varies according to individual conditioning.
Sleep will help the body to recover and the tiredness is allayed, at least temporarily. With a lack of sleep, a person may experience constant tiredness that is not eased by sleep. Afternoon or evening dips in energy are usually severe and affects daily functioning.
Dizziness and Headaches
Two common and non-specific symptoms of a lack of sleep is dizziness and headaches. Often a person awakens with these symptoms or it may arise during the course of the day. The exact reason for dizziness or headaches is not always clearly understood.
Changes in heart rate and blood pressure can occur with insufficient sleep which may contribute to dizziness. Alterations in blood glucose levels may also arise. Headaches may be associated with muscle spasm or other physiologic disturbances that occur with a lack of sleep.
A lack of sleep affects various mental functions. Among the more noticeable is a difficulty concentrating. This may be more prominent in the work or academic setting but affects every task that requires some degree of concentration, like driving.
Difficulty concentrating usually does not occur on its own. There are other mental symptoms although it may not be as obvious. Lack of sleep may affect memory recall, problem solving and even perception to varying degrees.
Poor coordination is another sign of a lack of sleep. It varies depending on the degree of sleep deprivation. A person who has had no sleep or very little sleep over two or more days may exhibit symptoms similar to intoxication.
This is extremely dangerous when driving and operating heavy machinery. However, the impaired coordination may also be noticed in everyday tasks around the house. In milder cases this impaired coordination due to a lack of sleep may appear that a person is being clumsy.
Sensory hypersensitivity is another symptom that may people may experience due to a lack of sleep. This is often described as light being too bright or sounds being too loud. However, it may also extend to the other senses – smell, taste and touch.
There does not appear to be an actual change in the senses but rather in the perception of sensory stimuli. A person become more sensitive or less tolerant to light, sound, smell, taste or touch. Sometimes the converse may occur where sensory perception appears to be dulled.
Similar to the physical and mental impact, there is also an effect on emotions. It can vary from feeling “down” to irritability and anxiety or overt anger. We may often describe this as being “grumpy” and a person may experience mood swings with even the slightest trigger.
It is important to note that these mood swings and change in personality should be a temporary consequence of a lack of sleep. These symptoms are uncharacteristic for a person. Mental health diseases should be considered if these changes do not ease with sleep.