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Ask a Doc – Sleep Deprivation

Answer: The recommended amount of sleep for an adult is seven or more hours per night.  This recommendation is vital to good health because lack of sleep significantly affects alertness and cognitive ability as well as physical wellbeing.  Occasional sleep interruptions are generally no more than a nuisance, but continuous sleep deprivation can lead to serious consequences including emotional difficulties, memory impairment, poor job performance, clumsiness, and obesity.  
 
First, it is important to understand the body’s need for sleep.  While many view the hours of rest as a waste of time or hours that can be used for other activities, the body needs this period to work to restore itself.  During sleep, the body releases hormones that increase alertness while awake, consolidates memories, repairs muscle, and regulates the hormones that play a role in growth and appetite.  Sleep also contributes to a healthy immune system.  A person who has been awake for 16 hours experiences slower reaction times, and 24 hours without sleep causes impairments similar to being intoxicated. 
 
It is not unusual to experience sleepless nights due to the stresses of daily life; however, the concern is continuous sleep deprivation.  The main symptom of ongoing sleep loss is excessive daytime sleepiness, but could also include, moodiness, irritability, depression, forgetfulness, clumsiness, and increased appetite and cravings.  The body does attempt to balance the need for sleep through short sleep attacks (microsleeps).  The uncontrollable brain response renders a person unable to process environmental stimulation and sensory information for a brief amount of time leading to a blank, “zoned out” state.  The attacks are sudden, and could be dangerous to someone driving or operating heavy machinery.  Microsleeps can begin after being awake for 16 hours.  If sleep deprivation continues for long periods of time, it can lead to emotional problems, hormone imbalances and other chronic illnesses.  
 
When a body misses out on sleep, it does not release the hormones necessary to regulate growth and appetite, and instead may produce stress chemicals.  The ability to reason and control emotions weakens leading to the abnormal processing of emotions.  It becomes difficult to concentrate and form new memories or even learn new concepts.  Someone experiencing sleep loss also might become unable to think positively or control impulses.  If sleep deprivation is not treated and the growth and appetite hormones go unregulated, serious medical issues can begin to develop such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart failure or stroke.  Reduced sleep time is a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure and heart disease.
 
It seems simplistic, but the treatment for sleep deprivation is sufficient sleep.  The body must satisfy the biological needs to restore brain function and needed hormone levels.  Positive effects of restful sleep will be felt quickly.  The best advice is to form good sleep habits including the following:
Go to bed when tired
Follow a consistent routine every day of the week
Engage in regular exercise during the day
Keep the bedroom quiet, dark and a comfortably cool temperature
Turn off electronic devices when you go to bed
 
Sometimes following good sleep habits is not sufficient to end sleep deprivation.  There are a number of sleep disorders including insomnia and sleep apnea that require evaluation by a physician.  If you are experiencing continued loss of sleep, see your primary care physician or consult a sleep specialist.

Asegid H. Kebede, M.D., joined Licking Memorial Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine in May 2014.  Dr. Kebede received his Doctor of Medicine degree from Jimma University in Jimma, Ethiopia.  He completed an internal medicine residency at St. Johns Episcopal Hospital/State University of New York.  He also completed a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the State University of New York.  In addition, he has traveled to Switzerland for further training.  His major areas of interests include lung cancer, pleural disease, critical care, lung procedures and bronchoscopy.

Dr. Kebede is a fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians, the American Thoracic Society and the American College of Physicians.  He is board certified in pulmonary disease, critical care medicine, internal medicine and sleep medicine.
 

| Posted On : 8/22/2017 4:58:39 PM