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Sleep Deprivation 

Introduction
Everyone may experience sleep deprivation at one time or another but ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to serious problems.  Sleep deprivation causes excessive daytime sleepiness and decreases your ability to perform your regular activities.  Ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to a host of medical complications and an increased risk of vehicle crash or injury.  There are many causes of sleep deprivation ranging from medical conditions, medications, sleep disorders, and lifestyle factors.  The type of treatment for sleep deprivation depends on the cause.

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Anatomy
Sleep is vital for life, just like eating and breathing.  Sleep allows your body to rest.  It is believed that during sleep your brain performs important functions, such as storing memory and processing brain chemicals. 

In a way, your body goes on “auto-pilot” while you sleep.  Your brain regulates automatic functions for you, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.  The average adult needs about eight hours of healthy sleep.  Although sleep is a complex process that is not fully understood, it is known that a good night’s sleep is important for optimal health and functioning.

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Causes
Sleep deprivation can result if you do not receive an adequate amount of sleep during the night, resulting in excessive daytime drowsiness, irritability, depression, poor thinking skills, and decreased functioning during the day.  Ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to medical conditions, such as heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, and diabetes, as well as lead to an increased risk of vehicle crashes or accidents.  Severe sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations and even death.

There are many causes of sleep deprivation.  Your lifestyle can influence how much sleep you get and the quality of your sleep.  Parents of a new baby, students studying for exams, or people traveling across time zones may be susceptible to temporary sleep deprivation.  Shift workers are vulnerable to ongoing sleep deprivation. 

Medical conditions, such as chronic pain or asthma, and certain medications can impair sleep.  People with untreated sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, or insomnia, can experience sleep deprivation.  Women may experience sleep deprivation because of hormone fluctuations that occur with premenstrual syndrome, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause.

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Symptoms
Sleep deprivation may cause you to feel tired during the day, moody, and irritable.  You may feel depressed.  You may have a harder time concentrating, performing your usual tasks, solving problems, and remembering things.  Your speech may become slurred.  You may experience tremors.  Sleep deprivation can cause slower reaction times.
 
Researchers have found that people with sleep deprivation are more prone to vehicle crashes, injuries, and accidents.  You may have difficulty maintaining employment, relationships, and responsibilities because of excessive daytime sleepiness.  Severe sleep deprivation can lead to a host of serious problems, including high blood pressure, weight gain, and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there).  Ongoing sleep deprivation can contribute to heart disease, mental illness, other medical problems, and even death.

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Diagnosis
You should contact your doctor if you experience difficulty sleeping, significant daytime sleepiness, or symptoms of sleep deprivation that interfere with your daily life.  Your doctor will review your medical history and conduct a physical examination.  Samples of your blood and urine may be tested to help identify medical conditions or sleep disorders that may contribute to your symptoms. 
 
You may be referred to other specialists, such as a neurologist, psychiatrist, or sleep medicine doctor.  A clinical sleep study may be conducted if an underlying sleep disorder is suspected.  A Multiple Sleep Latency Test evaluates how long it takes you to fall asleep for daytime naps and is a measure of daytime sleepiness.  A polysomnogram is used to evaluate how your body functions while you sleep.  This test measures your heart rate, oxygen level, breathing, brain waves, and body movements.  It is helpful for identifying a variety of sleep problems.

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Treatment
The type of treatment that you receive depends on the type and cause of your sleep problem.  Simple lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, a regular sleep schedule, and avoiding stimulants, may be all that some people need.  Treatment for an underlying medical condition, such as depression, anxiety, enlarged prostate, or asthma can help as well.  There are many types of treatments for sleep disorders ranging from lifestyle changes, medications, breathing devices worn at night, and surgery.

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Prevention
You may prevent sleep deprivation by reducing the risk factors that you can control.  It can be helpful to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and practice relaxation techniques.  Establish a regular bedtime routine and sleep schedule.  Use your bedroom only for sleep and sexual activity.  It is helpful to not use alcohol, cigarettes or nicotine products, caffeine products, illegal drugs, or other stimulants.  If you are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety or depression, follow you psychiatrist’s recommendations for taking your medication.

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Am I at Risk

There are many risk factors that can disrupt sleep and cause sleep deprivation.  Some of the more common ones are listed below:


_____   Alcoholism and substance abuse increases the risk of sleep problems.
_____ Older adults may experience insomnia with increasing age.
_____ Anxiety, depression, grief, post-traumatic stress disorder, and stress can cause insomnia and contribute to sleep deprivation.
_____ Shift work is a risk factor for sleep deprivation.
_____ Jet lag is a risk factor for sleep deprivation.
_____ People that are not exposed to enough sunlight or bright light may develop insomnia.
_____ Sleeping disorders, such as restless legs syndrome, can contribute to sleep deprivation.
_____ Some medical conditions, such as an overactive thyroid, arthritis, enlarged prostate, heart disease, lung disease, and heartburn, can contribute to insomnia and lead to sleep deprivation.
_____ Cigarettes, tobacco products, and caffeine products such as coffee, soda pop, and chocolate, are stimulants and increase the risk of insomnia.
_____ Hormonal changes during pregnancy, perimenopause, menopause, or in the days before menstruation begins can cause insomnia.
_____ Sleeping during the day can cause insomnia at night.
_____ Too much activity or excitement before bedtime, irregular bedtime routines, and lack of a bedroom just for sleep are risk factors for insomnia.  It is suggested that televisions, computers, and video games be removed from bedrooms to help reduce stimulating the brain before sleep.
_____ Some over-the-counter medications and prescription medications increase the risk of insomnia.  It is helpful to make a list of all of the prescription and nonprescription medications that you take for your doctor’s review.  If necessary, your doctor may be able to substitute another similar medication that does not contribute to insomnia.
_____ Nightmares or night terrors may interrupt sleep and increase the risk of insomnia.
_____ Students that stay awake at night studying for exams may experience temporary sleep deprivation.
_____ Parents of a new baby may experience interrupted sleep until the baby is able to sleep through the night.

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Complications
Sleep deprivation can be debilitating.  It can interfere with employment pursuits, relationships, and daily activities.  Daytime sleepiness can be dangerous.  You should not drive or operate machinery when you feel tired.  Further, people with ongoing sleep deprivation are at risk for developing serious medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and even death.

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Advancements
Recent research has shown that personality type may influence the effects of sleep deprivation.  Extroverts, people who are more socially outgoing, are more affected by sleep deprivation than are introverts.  Extroverts showed significant declines in attention and mental processing speed after one night of sleep deprivation, while the more socially-reserved introverts did not. 

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.