The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a term used to describe a state caused by inadequate quantity or quality of sleep. A survey by the National Sleep Foundation (2006), states that around 87 percent of American high school students are chronically sleep deprived. These students would experience consequences such as difficulties with learning, cognitive skills, academic performance and memory. Sleep deprivation also causes reaction speeds to drop to the same level when driving as it does when affected by alcohol. Some people may intentionally deprive themselves of sleep for social reasons such as hanging out with friends and family, or they may have a medical condition such as sleep apnea or insomnia which makes them restless.

According to Hamilton and Joosten (2017), between 9 and 38 percent of adults suffer from sleep apnea, and as a result of societal prevalence and awareness, pharmacies also offer take-home sleep screening tests that help to detect the condition. People suffering from sleep deprivation can also be prescribed medication to help them to sleep.

Sleep deprivation is addressed in society a number of different ways, for example, there is a growing number of readily available caffeinated products for those who are having trouble sleeping, or are simply not getting enough sleep, and research by Einöther and Giesbrecht (2012), concludes that caffeine has clear beneficial effects on attention and alertness. It works by blocking adenosine, which is the chemical in the brain responsible for slowing down neural activity, from binding to the A1 receptors in the brain, resulting in resulting in a decrease of somnolence (Debuc, 2002).

Some sufferers may experience quick and temporary relief from sleep deprivation in the form of caffeinated drinks, although when taken too late in the evening, can exacerbate the problem.

Other causes of sleep deprivation include medical conditions such as, insomnia, parasomnia and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People suffering from OSA have episodes of complete or partial obstruction of the pharynx during sleep, which causes breathing to reduce or stop for a short period of time (usually between 10 seconds and 1 minute), which disturbs the quality of sleep drastically, making it difficult for patients to stay awake during the day, especially in the afternoon (Sleep Health Foundation, 2019). Pharmacies including Capital Chemist, and Blooms The Chemist now offer an in-home sleep apnea screening test, called a polysomnogram, which monitors blood oxygen levels, heart rate, brain activity, and breathing. Results are then uploaded and emailed to a sleep specialist who can make an official diagnosis, and provide the patient with advice, and if necessary, medication that will help them to manage the condition. Sometimes sleep deprivation can be caused by stresses from work, school and family, or mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Research by Kim and Dimsdale (2007), investigated the impacts of stress on sleep, which resulted in relatively consistent changes on the quality of sleep, such as decreases in slow wave sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and sleep efficiency (SE), as well as an increase in the number of times the patient awakens during the night.

Social expectations such completing homework for school, staying late at work, and doing shift work can all impact greatly on sleep habits. To quote a study by Åkerstedt and Wright (2009), ‘shift work is highly prevalent in industrialized societies (greater than 20 percent) but, when it includes night work, it has pronounced negative effects on sleep, subjective and physiological sleepiness, performance, accident risk, as well as on health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer.’

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