Some insomnia is part of our 24-hour society. Here’s how to counter the effects of being sleep deprived.
According to the American Insomnia Study, about 23 percent of American workers are sleep deprived, which costs the American economy $63.2 billion dollars a year in lost productivity.
American adults lose about 11 days a year to insomnia and often go to work too tired to do their jobs properly.
“We live in a society that is on the go 24 hours a day,” says David A. Neumeyer, MD, a sleep specialist at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. “For many of us, that does not leave enough time for the seven or eight hours of sleep that we need every night. This can be especially dangerous if the sleep deprived worker has a job like a pilot, surgeon, or truck driver.
People at risk for insomnia and sleep deprivation include those with sleep disorders and medical conditions that interfere with sleep as well as caregivers and shift workers who have a tough time regulating their sleep hours.
Effects of Insomnia
“We are all familiar with the short-term effects of sleep deprivation — it makes you feel crummy, grumpy, and sleepy,” Dr. Neumeyer says. “The long-term effects can actually be pretty serious and can include obesity, depression, loss of memory, and serious accidents.”
Sleep deprivation can cause these additional negative consequences:
- Mood changes from sleep deprivation include irritability, lack of motivation, and anxiety.
- Performance effects include inattention, inability to concentrate, longer reaction times, and poor decision making.
- Long-term physical effects may add to your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
“You can’t fight biology,” says Neumeyer. “The only cure for sleep deprivation is sleep.” But for many of us, there are days that we just have to cope with not getting enough sleep. Here are some tips that may help:
- Eat well and stay hydrated. “When you are sleep deprived, your body tries to conserve energy so you may not have the energy or the appetite to eat and drink normally,” warns Neumeyer. Avoid fast food and empty-calorie snacks that can make you feel even less energetic.
- Get some exercise. “Some moderate aerobic exercise can give you a temporary boost, but don’t overdue the exercise or you will make your fatigue worse,” he says.
- Enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. “Getting out in the sunlight helps reset your biological clock,” Neumeyer says. Your body will stop making the hormone melatonin when you are exposed to bright sunlight, and that may make you less sleepy.
- Drink some coffee. About 80 percent of adults use coffee as a stimulant. You may need to take more than one cup if you are recovering from a night of insomnia. “A couple cups of coffee can help, but avoid the energy jolt from a high-caffeine energy drink,” Neumeyer advises. “The rebound when the caffeine wears off can be much worse if you are sleep deprived.”
- Try to look better than you feel. If you look sloppy or neglect your personal hygiene, you may start to look and feel even worse. Keeping up appearances can help you hang in there on a sleepy day.
- Grab a quick nap. You can store up on sleep if you know you are going to have a sleepless night, so restore some energy and alertness by taking a quick nap during the day. Even 15 to 20 minutes can help. In fact, if you nap longer than 30 minutes, it may be too hard for you to wake up again.
“There is no substitute for a good night’s sleep,” Neumeyer says. “If you become sleep deprived, you can eventually make up for lost sleep, but you can’t do it in one night. You can catch up gradually over a few nights.” If you have long-term symptoms of sleep deprivation, or you suffer from frequent insomnia, talk to your doctor. Insomnia can be a sign of a serious medical problem and may need to be treated.
By Chris Iliades, MD