Healthy Lifestyle

The social science of sleep and sleep deprivation

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Middle aged woman in bed sleeping


Do you ever ask yourself why you can’t stay asleep? The answer for several sleep disorders may lie in the palm of your hand.


By Jose L. Mendez, MD, Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center in Danbury


Our relationship with sleep is as old as time itself. A good night’s sleep can mean a healthier, more productive day while the opposite can directly impact your short and long-term health. One of the most common chronic sleep disorders recognized is sleep deprivation.


Everyone wants to sleep well and feel rested. When you are deprived of sleep, you can feel foggy, irritable and sluggish. Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to other health conditions.


Let’s explore sleep deprivation and some common causes of it so you can get a good night’s sleep.


Learn more about sleep medicine at Nuvance Health 


How quality sleep effects your mental health


As we all have probably experienced, a lack of quality sleep for even one night can impact your mental health the following day. If you experience low-quality sleep or are sleep deprived, you may feel more irritable, short-tempered and have a tougher time dealing with the stress of daily life.


According to the National Sleep Foundation, during sleep, the body and mind go through various restorative processes, including repairing and rejuvenating cells, consolidating memories, processing emotions and cleansing toxins from the brain. When those restorative processes are shortened or disrupted, so too are your emotional and cognitive abilities. 


What is the difference between sleep deprivation and insomnia?



According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia is a sleep disorder that disturbs a person’s ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Approximately 40 million Americans experience insomnia every year and more than 57%of older adults experience a decline in quality of life and overall health due to insomnia.


If you have insomnia, you may wake up too early or struggle to return to sleep after awakening during the night. Chronic insomnia occurs three or more nights a week, lasts more than three months and cannot be fully explained by another health problem. Insomnia can happen even if you give yourself plenty of time to sleep and choose the appropriate environment to sleep in.


Related content: Too tired for exercise? Here’s how to fight fatigue


Sleep deprivation


Sleep deprivation is a broader concept and is related to the decisions we make during our waking hours. Sleep deprivation can result when you simply aren’t getting enough sleep, when you are choosing the wrong times to sleep or if you aren’t getting the different types of sleep your body needs. Sleep deprivation can also be a symptom of a sleep disorder, causing an overall lack of high-quality sleep.


Learn more about treatments for sleep disorders at Nuvance Health


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in three adults in the United States reported not getting enough rest or sleep every day. Despite the busy nature of our daily lives, prioritizing high-quality sleep and good sleep hygiene are as vital to your health as a healthy diet and exercise. Some of the risks associated with chronic sleep deprivation may include:

  • Cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Stroke


Related article: Stressed out? Discover the effect of stress on the brain and ways to manage it


The modern cause that effects sleep and sleep deprivation


We all remember our parents warning us not to fall asleep with the television on when we were younger. While it’s true that TV might delay sleep, in the 21st century, it is the devices in our pockets that pose the biggest threat to our sleep health.


Smartphones and tablets emit blue light and too much exposure to that light can negatively impact our circadian rhythm (our biological sleep clock). This is because the blue light emitted from these devices directly impacts our body’s production of melatonin.


Melatonin is the hormone your body produces that helps you fall asleep. It helps to naturally regulate your body’s sleep rhythm. Sufferers of sleep deprivation due to the exposure to blue light lose about one hour of sleep on average due to the lack of melatonin produced by the body.


Steps to help you avoid sleep deprivation


Knowing if you are getting good sleep consistently can be tough to gauge. That’s why, for many folks, busy lifestyles and household responsibilities mean supplementing our sleep schedule with a band-aid approach. These temporary fixes can come in the form of medications that can make you drowsy, alcohol, tetrahydrocannabinol gummies or even doses of melatonin itself.


Related content: Managing stress without alcohol — Exploring healthier alternatives

The truth is, much like with diet and exercise, the solution for continuous healthy sleep relies upon our commitment to good habits — or good sleep hygiene. Much of what makes up good sleep hygiene comes because of respecting our internal clock. Listening to the signals our body gives us.


Some basic solutions that can result in good sleep hygiene are:


  • Maintain a regular bedtime and wake up time.
  • Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Avoid electronics for two hours prior to bed and avoid using them in bed.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day and stop drinking beverages an hour or two before bedtime so you do not need to use the bathroom during the night.
  • Minimize caffeine during the day and alcohol in the evenings.
  • Get plenty of exercise during the day.
  • Avoid eating large meals less than two hours before bedtime and snacking late at night.


We all have nights where we toss and turn in bed. But if you consistently have trouble sleeping, speak with a doctor who can help you determine what might be making it difficult for you to sleep. They can help you identify habits that may contribute to restless nights, or exam and test you for medical conditions like sleep apnea that might disrupt your sleep.


Book now with a sleep medicine specialist


The bottom line: Today’s fast-paced environment can take a toll on our sleep. But consistent good sleep hygiene practices are attainable! Aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time, manage your food and drink intake before bed and swap your mobile phone for a book before climbing into bed. Your mind and body need quality sleep so you can continue doing what matters most to you.