Can You Recover from Years of Sleep Deprivation?

Reviewed on 3/2/2021

What is sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is a lack of sleep. Medications, home care remedies and alternative therapies can help you recover from years of sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation is a lack of sleep. Medications, home care remedies and alternative therapies can help you recover from years of sleep deprivation.

Although not considered a disease or illness, lack of sleep is a condition that could have harmful effects. Challenging life circumstances could lead you to experience sleep deprivation. Illness and underlying health issues could also prevent you from getting restorative and restful sleep. Sometimes this cycle of bad sleep can last for years.

It could seem as if there’s no path to treatment when you experience a chronic lack of sleep, but there are options that can help you sleep better and recover.

Simply put, sleep deprivation is a lack of sleep. Typically, health professionals recommend that adults get approximately eight hours of sleep. However, sleep deprivation prevents many from getting the necessary rest needed. If left unchecked, lack of sleep could cause health and wellness issues such as forgetfulness, mood swings, and lowered immunity.

According to research, people who are sleep deprived are involved in 6,000 fatal car crashes each year. They are also at a 50% higher risk for obesity. Because immunity declines from lack of sleep, people who are sleep deprived have a 48% higher chance of developing heart disease. They also are three times more likely to catch a cold.

Moreover, lack of sleep affects your brain and emotions. For instance, if you don’t get sufficient sleep, you have a 33% increased chance of dementia. You also have an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and irritability.

Main symptoms

The sleep deprivation symptoms you may experience as an adult include the following: 

  • Being sleepy during waking hours due to narcolepsy or not getting sufficient sleep 
  • Having trouble sleeping at bedtime because of insomnia 
  • Breathing that isn’t usual during sleep, such as sleep apnea 
  • Falling asleep at inconvenient times, such as when driving or while at work
  • Wanting to move and get going when trying to sleep
  • Fitful body movements while trying to fall or remain asleep, such as restless leg syndrome

Main causes

Sleep deprivation, including chronic lack of sleep, occurs for the following main reasons: 

  • Having a sleep disorder, such as insomnia, narcolepsy, or sleep apnea
  • Being an adult who is 65 years or older, especially if you take medication
  • Having life circumstances that disrupt sleep, such as a new baby, night work, or travel for business
  • Illnesses such as depression, cancer, and strokes

Who can get it

Sleep deprivation could happen at any time during your life. For example, you could travel extensively for work, causing jet lag or stress. You could also work during the night or have a new baby at home. Unfortunately, stress from these events and others — such as work, financial pressures, and family matters — could affect sound sleeping.

Moreover, as you become older, sleep deprivation could become a growing and chronic problem. This situation occurs because as you age, you tend to sleep lighter and for shorter periods. Estimates suggest that about half of adults age 65 years or older experience sleep deprivation. 

Diagnosis for sleep deprivation

Medical specialists suggest there is one primary sign for moving toward a cure and sleep deprivation treatment. If you’re sleep-deprived, a telltale sign is that you feel sleepy during the daytime. Specialists say that if you’re sleeping well, you remain alert even when doing tedious tasks. 

Another sign includes falling asleep almost immediately when lying down. While this may seem counterintuitive, it’s a sign of tiredness. Another signal of possible sleep deprivation is experiencing “microsleeps.” These moments occur during the day when you briefly fall asleep when you shouldn’t (at work or while driving, for example). 

If you believe you need sleep deprivation treatment, your doctor could refer you to a sleep specialist. This healthcare professional will quiz you on sleep and ask detailed and relevant questions to assess the issue. If they suspect an underlying problem, the specialist may do a sleep study test, medically known as a polysomnography. During a sleep study, your brain activity, oxygen levels, arm and leg movements, and how often you wake are monitored.

Treatments for sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation treatments, including for people suffering from long-term issues, will vary from one person to the next. A doctor may recommend beginning with useful home strategies for healthier sleep. However, a doctor may also suggest medication. 

Medications

A doctor may prescribe sleeping pills to help you get to sleep or remain asleep. Depending on the type of pills, risks differ. To provide you with sleeping pills, a doctor will typically ask you questions, discuss options, and make sure that you don’t have underlying health issues. These medications may get prescribed for a limited time to assess the benefits and side effects.

Home care remedies

Generally, medical professionals view cognitive behavioral therapy as the best treatment for sleep deprivation. Some of these strategies include sleeping on a regular schedule and getting no more than eight hours of sleep. It may also include creating a relaxing sleep environment. A few tools to use for relaxation include dark window shades, soothing noise (such as a fan or waves), or earplugs. 

If it’s determined that sleep deprivation comes from stress, stress management strategies may help — such as placing a pad of paper and pen at your bedside and noting everything on your mind before falling asleep. 

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential, so knowing how to get sleep deprivation treatment is vital. There are a few other things you could try to get a better night’s sleep, even as a longtime sufferer. Spend 20 to 30 minutes each day exercising, at least five to six hours before bedtime. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine

Alternative therapies

A doctor could also suggest the use of light therapy. This treatment allows a person’s natural clock to readjust. In turn, it allows for a more restful night’s sleep. With an issue such as sleep apnea, a doctor may prescribe a breathing machine. 

Potential side effects of pills for sleep deprivation

Before prescribing pills for sleep deprivation, a doctor should discuss any potential side effects. Some reactions to sleeping pills may be as follows:

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References
SOURCES:

Annals of Internal Medicine: "Management of Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Adults: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Key Sleep Disorders."

Columbia University, Department of Neurology: "Sleep Deprivation."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "The Effects of Sleep Deprivation."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Natural Sleep Aids: Home Remedies to Help You Sleep."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Sleep Deprivation."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "What Happens in a Sleep Study?"

SleepFoundation.org: "Side Effects of Sleep Medication."

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