In this day and age, it’s worth asking yourself “Am I sleeping enough?” from time to time. We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping, and when we get the right amount of it, it helps us make the most out of our time awake. And when we don’t get enough sleep, we often don’t feel or function at our best.
If you think you’re sleep-deprived, you’re part of a very big club: one in three American adults don’t get enough sleep.
But, with a few changes to your habits, you can improve your sleep duration and quality, so your days are filled with more energy and drive to better enjoy the things you really care about.
Let’s look at what sleep deprivation means, red flag signs indicating you might be sleep-deprived, and ways to get your sleep health in check.
What is Sleep Deprivation
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep deprivation is a condition that occurs when you don’t get enough sleep. When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re not meeting your sleep needs, which can start to affect your health, alertness, and performance.
Everyone’s sleep needs vary based on their age, genes, health status, living circumstances, environment, etc. You might be able to function on seven hours of sleep, while some may need up to nine hours of sleep to feel ready for the day. Regardless, most adults need at least seven hours of sleep a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
You might not be catching enough sleep for your needs for different reasons. Maybe you’ve been studying late for exams, work’s been hectic, you’re a new parent, you just moved to a new place, or maybe you’ve simply been pushing off bedtime for leisure.
In addition, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and insomnia may reduce how much sleep you can get regularly. Other health conditions that can affect your ability to get enough sleep include:
- Substance use disorders
- Anxiety and depression
- Respiratory problems
- Heart diseases
- Chronic pain
Sleep deprivation can affect your functioning during the day. It can also contribute to health conditions like obesity, insomnia, heart diseases, diabetes, depression, and others.
8 Red Flags That Could Mean You’re Sleep Deprived
1. You feel overwhelmed easily.
Are the smallest obstacles causing a break down in tears? Are you feeling out of control with your emotions? Do you feel like you need a break from everything? If your answer is yes, how have you been sleeping?
When you don’t get adequate sleep for your needs, your emotions might feel set off at even the slightest inconveniences. You may struggle to process them or understand how you’re feeling. When you face emotional stress, you might feel unable to cope with it.
A 2020 study suggests that sleep deprivation can disrupt how you process your emotions and make you react to pleasant or neutral situations negatively. Similarly, a 2021 study suggests that not having enough sleep can negatively affect how you process negative emotions.
2. You’re becoming sick more often.
When you’re sleep-deprived, your body doesn’t get as much restoration, healing, and recovery as it needs to tackle the day and protect it from infections.
Numerous studies suggest that sleep deprivation can lower immune functioning and make you more prone to infections and chronic inflammatory diseases. A 2009 study observed that participants who slept for less than seven hours were about three times more likely to catch a cold than those who had eight or more hours of sleep.
Interestingly, a more recent study led by the University of California San Francisco found that participants who had less than six hours of sleep were 4.2 times more likely to catch a cold than those who had seven or more hours of sleep. Worse, people who slept for less than five hours were 4.5 times more likely to catch a cold.
3. You’re feeling more tired than usual.
Where’s all your energy gone to, you wonder? Poor sleep may make you feel like you’re severely lacking energy to enjoy and perform your daily activities. You might feel drained during and after your regular physical activity. Maybe you can no longer take long evening walks like you used to or struggle to finish your daily 20-minute exercise routine.
A 2015 review suggests that sleep loss can impair performance and functioning during physical activity, make you feel exhausted quickly, and feel like you’re expending more energy than you are.
4. You feel moody more days than not.
If you’ve had unexplainable gloomy days, it might be because you’ve not been catching enough sleep. Sleep loss can make you moody, irritable, prone to anger, more reactive and sensitive to stressful events, and less grounded in your feelings.
A 2020 review found that less sleep is associated with a 55 percent higher chance of having a poor mood. In addition, a 2018 study suggests that sleep deprivation may cause poor mood or mood disturbance, depression, confusion, anger, fatigue, hunger, irritability, and stress. However, young adults were more vulnerable to the effects of sleep deprivation on mood than older adults.
5. Your appetite has increased, often in favor of junk food.
When you’re sleep-deprived, you may crave more food than usual. This is because sleep deprivation balloons levels of hungry hormones in the body (leptin), and reduces hormones that help us feel full (ghrelin). In fact, research has shown that short sleep is associated with a 15% increase in ghrelin levels, and a 15% reduction in leptin. Together, these studies suggest that sleep deprivation can directly contribute to weight gain and higher BMI.
Maybe you can’t stop at your standard servings, or you’re eating more times during the door, or you can’t stop binging snacks.Another 2021 review showed that insufficient sleep could contribute to type 2 diabetes through increased hunger, food intake, and weight gain.
6. Your productivity levels have taken a dip.
How have you been coping with your daily responsibilities? Do tasks take you longer to complete? Is your motivation to work taking a downward spiral? Do you struggle with focusing? Do you have less faith in your skills and abilities?
Yes, poor sleep can make you feel less in control of your abilities and reduce your productivity and functioning at work. Studies have shown that sleep loss can make tasks appear more challenging and reduce your self-efficacy. Evidence suggests that sleep deprivation can make you easily distractible and less able to focus on simple tasks and multitask.
7. You feel bodily pains more intensely.
Sleep deprivation can affect your ability to cope with pain. If you have chronic pain, you may feel symptoms more intensely.
Studies suggest that sleep deprivation can lower your pain threshold and increase your pain sensitivity. Not to mention that pain can disturb sleep, which, in turn, affects how much you feel pain, leading to a vicious cycle of intense pain and poor sleep. Experts suggest that sufficient sleep may reduce pain symptoms and make you less likely to use pain medications.
8. Staying awake during the day becomes a challenge.
Do you struggle to keep your eyes open during the day? Maybe you’re dozing off at unusual or even dangerous times, like while driving, during a meeting, or on the bus.
When you’re sleep-deprived, you might experience microsleeps, your body’s way of catching a few seconds of sleep during the day. Microsleeps usually occur after periods of prolonged wakefulness. For people that are sleep deprived, this can be at any time during the day.
How to Get Enough Sleep
Do you relate to any of the above red flag signs of sleep deprivation? You just might be sleep-deprived.
However, if after making healthy changes to your sleep habits, you see no changes in your daily functioning, speak with a doctor. Sleep deprivation may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Addressing the root illness may improve your sleep and help you function better during the day.
In the meantime, you can get more sleep by practicing healthy sleep hygiene habits. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Follow a bedtime winddown routine to prepare your body for a good night’s rest.
- Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet, and tidy bedroom to support uninterrupted sleep.
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, heavy and spicy food, and tobacco in the evening as they may raise your body’s alertness and disturb sleep.
- Keep away from electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime.
- Stay physically active during the day.
- Go to bed at the same time every night and try to wake up at the same time every morning.
Red flag signs of sleep deprivation are your body’s way of telling you that it’s craving more sleep, and it’s not just a suggestion. Don’t ignore these signs by not getting the rest your body needs. Contrary to popular opinion, your body doesn’t get used to little sleep.
Need more ideas on how to prioritize sleep, follow better daytime habits, and feel more like yourself every day? Explore our entire library of articles for more information.