We’re all familiar with the aftermath of a sleepless night. You rely on caffeine to get you through the day, but you’re still groggy, irritable, nauseous, and disoriented. You can barely focus on standing upright, let alone shift your energy into doing something productive.
The short-term effects of sleep deprivation are bad enough, but the long-term effects can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Weight gain, weakened immunity, memory problems, mood changes, and increased risk of accidents are all severe sleep deprivation symptoms.
Lack of sleep impacts the body so acutely because we need sleep to survive as much as we need food, water, and air. But we don’t just need sleep – we need at least 8 hours of high-quality sleep on a regular basis for improved concentration, alertness, and overall well-being.
Despite the recommendation to sleep 8 hours a night, most adults consider themselves lucky if they can average 6, especially while struggling to maintain a work-life balance.
If you’re concerned that sleep deprivation is starting to get the best of you, the good news is that a night of rest is within your reach. From investing in a faux fur blanket to creating healthy sleep habits, here are some ways to kick sleep deprivation to the curb.
Keep a sleep diary
To understand how to sleep better, you first need to learn what’s keeping you up at night, particularly if it happens often. Maintaining a sleep diary can help you track your sleep habits and patterns. When setting up your diary, be sure to include the following essentials to understand why you’re struggling with sleep deprivation:
- The time you go to bed and the estimated time it takes you to fall asleep
- How many times you wake up in the middle of the night
- The time it takes you to fall back asleep
- What you did right before bedtime
- How much caffeine or alcohol you drank throughout the day
- How long your nap lasted (if you took one)
- Worries or nightmares that keep you up at night
- Other things that interrupted your sleep, such as overheating during the night, an uncomfortable mattress or pillow, your partner tossing and turning, etc.
The more you write, the easier it becomes to review each entry and identify why you had trouble sleeping. Keeping a consistent sleep diary can also give you insight into what you did correctly on nights you do record a good night’s rest.
Don’t rely on sedatives
After enough sleep-deprived nights, you’ll inevitably find yourself reaching for something that puts you out of your insomnia-ridden misery.
Whether it’s Advil PM, ZzzQuil, alcohol, or even prescribed tranquillizers, they all help temporarily by putting you to sleep, but it’s essential to be mindful of the side effects.
For starters, you’re likely to still feel tired and drowsy during the day. After repeated use, you might find your tolerance waning and dependency increasing. At some point, you might learn that you need a higher dosage than what you initially took, and over time, you may struggle to sleep at all without them.
The sleep complications that arise from swearing off the sedatives can be even more severe than the initial bouts of sleep deprivation you might’ve been experiencing.
Invest in a weighted blanket
A weighted blanket isn’t just a bedroom accessory; it’s proven to reduce the severity of insomnia. A Swedish study found that participants who used a weighted blanket for four weeks reported improved quality of sleep, reduced symptoms of fatigue, and higher levels of daytime productivity.
The calming pressure of a weighted blanket can help you doze off more quickly by stimulating the comforting feeling of a hug or massage. The added pressure on the body increases serotonin and reduces levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. To ensure you don’t overheat during the night, invest in a cool weighted blanket to reap all the benefits while still staying cosy.
But a blanket is only as good as the mattress, so it’s important to ensure you have the best memory foam mattress for a comfortable night’s sleep. A memory foam mattress is ideal for those who struggle with sleep deprivation because it contours to every curve of your body and provides an optimal level of comfort and support.
Limit the caffeine
The good news is that coffee lovers don’t have to give up the frothy cups of cappuccino entirely, but the bad news is that you can’t keep reaching for a cup throughout the day.
Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 14 hours, which means that even if you have a cup of coffee after lunch, it might still be in your body when you’re ready to go to sleep. To enjoy coffee and stave off the effects of sleep deprivation at the same time, it’s recommended to only have your caffeine intake in the morning when your body has enough time to work the caffeine out of your system.
Improve sleep hygiene
Your behaviours throughout the day can dictate whether or not you have a good night’s sleep.
One of the most effective ways to overcome sleep deprivation is by practising better sleep hygiene before you even go to bed. Make adjustments to your daily routine and correct habits you know might be affecting your sleep, such as diet, lack of exercise, or the long nap you took during the day.
This means establishing a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding screens at least 30 minutes before bed, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and avoiding consumption of heavy meals or alcohol close to bedtime. Even the smallest of changes can go a long way, such as changing your dinnertime from 9pm to 7pm.
A few sleepless nights might not seem like it requires immediate attention, but the reality is that the effects of sleep deprivation can contribute to poor quality of life.
At the first sign of sleep deprivation, start implementing solutions to get through the restless nights, such as investing in a top-rated mattress, changing your sleep habits, and skipping the caffeine too close to bedtime.
Elena Deeley did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.
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