If you often find yourself falling down the internet rabbit hole well past your bedtime, or tossing and turning even when you finally decide to sleep, you are far from alone!
We are all prone to the occasional bad night of rest, but regularly skimping on sleep can not only cause sluggishness and poor focus the following day, but over time, increase your risk of serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
We’ve all been told time and time again to aim for a full eight hours of sleep, but according to Pradeep Bollu, M.D., a board-certified sleep specialist and neurologist with MU Health Care, there is actually not a set number of hours of shut eye everyone needs to avoid sleep deprivation.
“Every person has their own unique biological sleep requirements,” he says in an interview with Good Housekeeping. “In most adults, it’s between 7-8 hours. Some people need just 6 hours or less. Some people need 8 hours or more.”
No matter how many hours of sleep your body needs to function at its best, there are detrimental effects when those needs are not met.
The Stages of Sleep Deprivation
According to Dr. Bollu, there are two kinds of sleep deprivation: acute and chronic. The acute kind is when you go a night or two without sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation, however, is when you miss out on those seven (or more) hours per night on a consistent basis (weeks or even months).
Acute Sleep Deprivation
If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter to study for an exam, you are most likely familiar with the signs of acute sleep deprivation, which include:
- Increased sleepiness and fatigue
- Decreased attention span
- Trouble focusing
- Reduced vigilance
- Increased risk of accidents
- Difficulty staying awake
But what happens if you pull several all-nighters in a row? According to Camilo A. Ruiz, D.O., the Medical Director at Choice Physicians Sleep Center in South Florida, your signs of acute sleep deprivation will be exacerbated, sometimes to the extremes. At that point, you may begin to experience:
- Moodiness and irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty naming things
- Delusional thinking
- Memory lapses
Dr. Bollu points out that it is not enough to just get sleep; you must also spend enough time in deep sleep. When you are not getting good quality sleep, you are more likely to struggle with concentration and memory the following day.
Deep sleep “promotes memory creation and solidifies things we’ve picked up during the day and stores them,” Dr. Ruiz adds. “Everybody has stayed up late studying for a test, but we tell people not to do that because obviously the performance and alertness that come with sleep is lost the following day.”
Chronic Sleep Deprivation
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than a third of American adults consistently sleep less than seven hours per day, meaning that many of us are chronically sleep deprived and might not even realize it.
Racking up sleep debt over days, weeks, months, and years can raise your risk of many health problems, including:
- Cardiovascular disease (which can cause a heart attack or stroke)
- Weight gain and obesity
- Decreased immune function
- High blood pressure
- Neurological diseases, like dementia and seizures
- Psychiatric problems
- Worsening pain
“Some of these changes you can see in direct correlation, like with increased stroke risk or heart disease,” Dr. Bollu says. “Sometimes we don’t have a strong reason why they’re happening. All we can say is that with chronic sleep deprivation, a lot of things will go wrong.”For more information on how to get a good night’s sleep, and the effects of poor sleep on the body, click here.