Causes of Sleep Deprivation

Causes of Sleep Deprivation

The causes of sleep deprivation are both involuntary (as with an illness), and voluntary (simply ignoring how much sleep you need), and can be broken into four broad categories:

  • Lifestyle
  • Health Complications
  • Medication Side Effects
  • Clinical Disorders

Each human being requires a specific amount of sleep in each 24-hour period to maintain optimal waking function. If an individual obtains less than this optimal dose, he will be less alert the following day.

Sleep loss accumulates from one night to the next as a "sleep debt." Therefore, sleep of durations that represent only a modest loss of sleep on a single night may produce a serious sleep debt when sustained over several nights. The more sleep lost each day, the greater the sleep debt and the larger the impairment.

In the laboratory, sleep debt can be measured by assessing increased sleep tendency, negative mood, and performance decrements. In the real world, the consequences include learning impairments, discord in interpersonal relationships, errors, and accidents.

Because individuals often do not realize that they are sleepy, they seldom guard against inappropriate sleep episodes. Much like the intoxicated driver, sleepy drivers do not realize they are incapable of adequate performance and may deny drowsiness and impairment.

When the individual does acknowledge sleepiness, it is often attributed mistakenly to bordedom, to an overly warm environment, or to a heavy meal; rarely is drowsiness linked to the true cause -- the quality (non rem sleep deprivation) and quantity of prior sleep. Sleepiness also may result from medication, alcohol consumption, or age-related deterioration of sleep found in the elderly.

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Swanson, Jennifer. Sleep Disorders Sourcebook. Detroit, Michigan: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1999.