Sleep is a physiological need. It is just like water, nourishment, and oxygen. Without it, we cannot exist. Even insufficient amounts of quality sleep can have far-reaching negative effects on how we function. Unfortunately, in this day and age, sleep deprivation has become common among teenagers and young adults. In some sense, it is “badge of honor,” showcasing commitment to causes like financial- and academic fulfillment.
This article in short:
- You are sleep-deprived when you do not get enough quality sleep and accumulate a “sleep debt.”
- Sleep deprivation profoundly affects your psyche and body.
- Lack of sleep can cause permanent brain damage, among a multitude of other problems.
- Address sleep deprivation by eliminating its causes and cleaning up your sleep hygiene.
- Sleep deprivation is likely not a practical AP and LD-induction technique.
- Dream deprivation produces symptoms similar to sleep deprivation.
What are the effects of lack of sleep and what is considered sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation is simply the condition of not getting enough sleep. This condition can vary in severity. It can be acute or chronic. When present, it triggers a truly spectacular menagerie of physiological responses.
Exactly how much sleep do you need to avoid sleep deprivation? This depends on your age. Specialists have defined sleep requirements for several age-brackets, like so:
• Newborns need to sleep 14-17 hrs per day.
• Infants need 12-15 hrs.
• Toddlers still need 11-14 hrs of sleep each day.
• Preschoolers have to catch 10-13 hrs worth of Zs.
• For school children, on the other hand, 9-11 hrs will suffice.
• Teenagers can sleep as little as 8-10 hrs.
• For adults, 7-9 hrs is sufficient.
• The elderly sleep even less: 7-8 hrs a day.
As mentioned, the physiological responses triggered by lack of sleep are numerous, diverse, and none of them are pleasant.
Sleep deprivation impacts almost every area of the body and several planes of one’s psyche. Its physiological effects include but are not limited to:
Muscle soreness, delayed muscle recovery after exercise, headaches, hand tremor, increased levels of stress hormones and blood pressure, stye, malaise, weakened immune system, obesity, seizures, irritability, mania in bipolar disorder sufferers, involuntary eye movement, and temper tantrums in children.
As far as your brain is concerned, the effects of sleep deprivation are positively devastating. They range from memory loss and lapse to the development of false memories and depression. Psychosis has been reported as well.
On the psychological front, those who suffer from sleep deprivation may also exhibit impulsive behavior, anxiety, and paranoia. Suicidal thoughts are also among the risks.
It is interesting from the perspective of lucid dreaming and astral projection, that sleep deprivation has been linked to hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations when falling asleep or awakening.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Brain
The function of the brain most spectacularly impacted by insufficient sleep is cognition.
Scientifically conducted studies have demonstrated that the area of the brain responsible for language processing fails to activate in sleep-deprived subjects when tested for verbal learning.
On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex, the area handling reasoning and memory, shows more activity in sleep-deprived people. This led researchers to conclude that sleepy subjects have a harder time accomplishing a given task than their well-rested peers.
According to a 2007 study, lack of sleep promotes psychosis. Sleep-deprived subjects have difficulty placing an emotional event into proper context. They also cannot come up with a reasonable response to the event.
Sleeplessness has also been found to affect alertness and mood. NREM sleep deprivation prevents neurotransmitters from being turned off. Thus, neurotransmitter receptors cannot rest and regain their normal sensitivity.
REM sleep deprivation, on the other hand, has been used successfully for the treatment of depression.
Can sleep deprivation cause permanent brain damage?
The brain can recover from most of the damage caused by missed sleep. The phenomenon of “sleep debt” refers to the accumulation of missed sleep. This debt can theoretically be made up at one point, through additional sleep. Some researchers are adamant however that not all sleep deprivation damage is fixable.
Some neurons are permanently killed off by a lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation amplifies oxidative stress too, which interferes with proper neural communication.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation of the Central Nervous System
Sleep deprivation impacts the rest of the central nervous system just as adversely as it affects the brain. The result is mood swings, the inability to concentrate, and to react to events on time.
Coordination also suffers, and micro-sleep episodes are triggered. Micro-sleep explains why it is impossible for a healthy individual to die from sleep deprivation. Micro-sleep is uncontrollable.
Past a certain point of sleep deprivation, subjects simply fall asleep for short periods, without being able to do anything about it. According to animal studies, micro-sleep episodes can last a few milliseconds, with a frequency of 30-40 episodes per minute.
Under such circumstances, the subject may seem to be awake, even as parts of his/her brain are asleep. Driving in such a state becomes a deadly undertaking. Operating machinery is also hazardous.
Long term sleep deprivation causes death in laboratory animals. Therefore, it is technically possible to die from sleep deprivation, but not practically feasible.
Humans suffering from fatal familial insomnia, on the other hand, have been known to die from sleep deprivation. The condition leads to death within a few months to a few years.
Sleep Deprivation and the Endocrine System
To produce adequate levels of testosterone, the body needs at least three hours of uninterrupted sleep. Low testosterone is quite capable of upending the body on its own, affecting everything from muscle regeneration to mood.
Lack of sleep also interferes with growth hormone production. On the level of the digestive system, sleeplessness interferes with several hormones. Two of these are leptin and ghrelin, which control hunger.
Another hormone impacted by sleep deprivation is insulin. Insulin controls sugar levels in the blood. High levels of insulin are conducive to fat storage and they increase your chance to develop type 2 diabetes.
Lack of Sleep and the Cardiovascular System
High blood sugar comes hand-in-hand with increased inflammation and high blood pressure. Sleeplessness also affects processes through which the body repairs damaged blood vessels.
Adding that up will explain why sleep deprivation (and insomnia in particular) has been associated with a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
Sleep Deprivation and the Immune System
During proper sleep, the body boosts the immune system in several ways. In addition to performing various restorative processes, it also produces cytokines – substances that fight infections.
Sleep-deprived people are also deprived of these benefits. As a result, they become more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections. The weakening of the immune system also favors chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease.
A weak immune system also delays wound healing, dealing a blow to the body’s ability to restore itself.
Sleep Deprivation Causes
To address your lack of proper sleep, you need to gain an understanding of its causes. Besides voluntary self-deprivation for various reasons, there are several other potential causes behind this true life quality-wrecker.
• Insomnia ruins sleep. If you happen to suffer from this condition, then you are deprived of quality sleep. Fortunately, the symptoms of insomnia, like excessive daytime sleepiness, are easy to spot.
• Sleep Apnea. A dangerous sleep disorder, sleep apnea triggers scores of micro-awakenings during the night. This way, it upends the sleep cycles and destroys sleep quality.
• Computer/mobile phone use before bed. The light emanating from these devices triggers processes conducive to alertness rather than falling asleep.
• School. Youngsters with academic ambitions often decide to cut sleep short to study more. Such an approach is highly detrimental though, as it may damage their brains permanently.
• Various forms of mental illness. Insomnia often accompanies mental illness, acting both as a trigger and consequence.
• Hospital stay. Patients staying in a hospital will sleep less than they would in their own homes. Nighttime sleep disruptions have many sources in a hospital environment. From personnel to other patients, pain and the unusual environment, the disturbing factors are many.
Sleep Deprivation Prevention and Treatment
Whipping your sleep hygiene into shape is the best way to prevent sleep deprivation. There are a few well-defined actions you can take in this regard.
• Do not sleep during the daytime. It is easy to fall into a routine in this regard. If you are already stuck in such a routine, break it. It will be difficult at first, but it is well worth it. Busy yourself with something around the time you would sleep. That will keep you from getting drowsy.
• Only drink coffee/caffeine-containing beverages before noon.
• Set a strict sleep schedule and stick to it. Hit the sack at the same time each night. If possible, try to awaken at around the same time each morning too. Stick to this routine over the weekends as well. The temptation to stay up later is bigger over the weekend.
• Do not eat or drink much for about two hours before going to bed. A heavy meal can ruin your sleep, causing digestive issues. Drinking lots of water will disrupt your sleep with bathroom trips.
• Do not use computers/mobile devices before going to bed. Picking up your phone and checking your social media as you tuck yourself in is an especially bad idea.
• Exercising is always great, but if you do it shortly before bedtime, it can ruin your sleep. Give yourself at least a couple of hours to wind down after a workout and before sleep.
These pointers are great for prevention but they also work as a first line of treatment.
If you find that improving your sleep hygiene does not help, there are alternative treatment avenues you can explore.
Short of medicines, you can try behavioral and cognitive therapy.
• Stimulus control is about conditioning yourself to associate being in bed with sleep. To accomplish this, you should only ever spend time in bed when you are sleepy/want to sleep. You can control many other pre-bedtime stimuli the same way.
• Relaxation techniques cover a wide range of practices that can help you relax before bedtime. Progressive muscle relaxation, meditation techniques, and soothing music/audio recordings, such as binaural beats, can all help you get in the proper mood for sleep.
• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) will help you change your thoughts and eliminate negativity. CBT will direct your focus to proper sleep, helping you actually achieve it.
If everything fails, medication is still an option. You can try melatonin receptor antagonists, benzodiazepines, and various other hypnotics. Understand however that some of these solutions lead to dependency over time.
Sleep Deprivation and Astral Projection
Astral projection enthusiasts have capitalized on the fact that lack of sleep tends to bring about hypnagogic hallucinations – as I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Some swear that only by depriving themselves of sleep can they bring about the hypnagogic state required to achieve AP. Some people have even reported being able to pop into an AP while conscious! The “technique” is quite controversial, however, as others dispute its usefulness.
Those who have achieved AP through sleep deprivation, recommend that you go to bed after a period of sleeplessness when you feel very tired. Focus on the hypnagogic state that will likely be triggered as your body drifts off into sleep. Try to fight sleep. That will hopefully keep your mind awake, and land you in sleep paralysis. From there, an OBE is but a step away.
Critics of the sleep deprivation technique have explained that instead of a real OBE, you will likely only achieve the illusion of one, through a series of micro-sleeps, triggered by your deprived state.
Sleep Deprivation and Lucid Dreaming
Indeed, those opposing the use of sleep deprivation for astral projection have pointed out that getting plenty of healthy sleep is more conducive to AP than sleep deprivation.
The lucid dreaming community seems to share this view. Sleep deprivation is widely considered to be the enemy of lucid dreaming. Some would go as far as to state that it is impossible to lucid dream in a sleep-deprived state.
During lucid dreaming, much thought-processing and problem-solving take place. A sleep-deprived mind is not capable of putting in this sort of work.
On top of sleep deprivation, dream deprivation seems to be a serious issue as well. REM sleep deprivation, the most likely cause of dream deprivation, is conducive to illness, depression, mental disorders, mood swings, and the overall deterioration of consciousness.
Its negative effects are quite similar to those of sleep deprivation. According to Dr. Rubin Naiman, the author of a dream deprivation study, many of the symptoms attributed to sleep deprivation are the results of dream deprivation.
Like sleep deprivation, dream deprivation stems from substance abuse, lifestyle choices, poor sleep schedules, medications, and sleep disorders.
REM sleep is an integral part of proper sleep. Not getting enough of it leads to sleep deprivation-like symptoms.