By now, you’re probably familiar with how insufficient sleep can harm your health. But do you know the warning signs to look for?
In the right dose, sleep regenerates the body, mind and spirit. When you don’t get enough of it, your body finds many varied ways to ring the alarm bells. Daytime grogginess is one universal symptom, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Sleep expert and neurologist Holly Skinner, DO, says insufficient sleep can take many forms that vary across the life-span. For example, children who are sleep deprived many actually become hyperactive or have other unwanted behaviors such as aggressive. School performance may deteriorate as well. In adults, sleep deprivation may change eating habits, mood, work performance and even pain levels.
Here are 10 common signs you may be sleep deprived:
You’re Sleepy During the Day
This one’s a no-brainer but bears repeating. Signs of daytime grogginess can range from yawning a lot and relying on coffee to keep you awake to “micro-sleeping” – that is, briefly nodding off without knowing it. This one’s a major reason why driving while drowsy is so dangerous.
You’re Packing on Pounds
Insufficient sleep hits your body with a triple whammy of metabolic effects: increased appetite, junk-food cravings and sluggish metabolism. With less than six hours of shut-eye, your body produces less leptin – an appetite-suppressing hormone – and more ghrelin, AKA the “hunger hormone.” Meanwhile, your metabolism grinds to a crawl, interfering with your ability to burn fat and respond to insulin.
Memory? What Memory?
Having trouble coming up with the right word, or forgetting conversations you just had? You could be suffering from sleep deprivation. During sleep, toxic molecules get cleared from your brain, allowing it to wake up refreshed and recharged. Without it, your memory can suffer, and long-term sleep deprivation has even been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.
You Can’t Keep Up With Your Emotions
Lack of sleep can make your emotions go haywire. That can mean a gamut of unusual-for-you emotional responses – from irritability to dramatic mood swings to crying at the drop of a hat. You may also be overly giddy or even depressed.
Your Reaction Time Has Slowed
Lack of sleep impairs your brain’s speed and higher-level processing. You may find yourself reading the same sentence over and over, having delayed reaction times while driving or struggling to make decisions or solve problems. Needless to say, this can lead to serious consequences at work, at home and on the road.
You’ve Become Unproductive and Unmotivated
Inability to concentrate and lower productivity are two signs you might not be getting enough rest. After all, how can you focus when all you can think about is crawling back into bed?
You’re Suddenly Clumsy
Clumsiness strikes all of us occasionally, but if you’re regularly tripping over your own feet or bumping into things, lack of sleep may be to blame. Difficulty with movement stems from slowed reaction and lack of concentration, making normally easy tasks like walking up stairs suddenly challenging.
Your Stress is Through the Roof
When it comes to sleep, stress is a vicious cycle. Not only can high stress cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances, it can be a symptom of that sleep deprivation. If you suddenly have a short fuse and spend much of your time feeling stressed, sleep deprivation could be the cause.
You’re Sick All the Time
A 2015 study that tracked the sleeping patterns of 164 people found that those who slept less than six hours a night were more than four times more likely to catch a cold. That’s because during sleep your immune system produces proteins called cytokines which fight infections and inflammation. Insufficient sleep disturbs that production, leaving you vulnerable to illness.
You Can’t See Straight
Seeing double or squinting your eyes in order to read clearly? It may be a lack of sleep, not your vision, that’s the problem. Muscles of the eye that control focus and alignment get run down without proper rest. As a result, you may also have more headaches due to strained vision.
TIPS FOR A BETTER NIGHT’S SLEEP
If the signs point to not enough rest, your sleep habits may need a little tweaking. Try these expert-tested tips to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Sleep on a schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. A sleep schedule helps regulate the body's sleep-wake cycle and can help sleep come more naturally.
Create a relaxing sleep environment. Take a look around your bedroom: is it an inviting, soothing place to sleep? Block obtrusive light with blackout curtains and buffer noises with a fan, white noise machine or earplugs. Set the temperature between 60 and 67 degrees. Make sure your pillows and mattress are comfortable and supportive (mattresses should generally be replaced every nine or 10 years).
Power down. The type of light that emanates from devices like smartphones and laptops activate the brain, making it harder to get sleepy. Try putting your device away at least an hour before bed to give your eyes, and your brain, a rest.
Exercise daily. Doctors recommend vigorous daily exercise for most people, but even light physical activity can help prepare your body for sleep.
Avoid naps. If you already have trouble falling or staying asleep at night, daytime catnaps might make problems worse.
Wind down & relax. A relaxing bedtime ritual and can help set the stage for sleep. Try low-energy activities like reading, meditation or light yoga.
Avoid heavy meals at night. Large or spicy meals, as well as caffeine and alcohol, can disrupt sleep. Avoid eating large meals two to three hours before bed. If you're still hungry, have a light snack 45 minutes before bed.
If you’re having trouble with sleeplessness, reach out to your family doctor or contact the Florida Hospital Center for Sleep Disorders at (407) 303-1558 or visit FloridaHospitalSleep.com.