Signs and Causes of a Lack of Sleep

Lack of sleep is the main symptom of insomnia. Excessive sleepiness, enough cause problems, is actually quite common.

This article takes a look at why we have a lack of sleep, the signs of a lack of sleep, and how a lack of sleep is caused.

Why do we have a lack of sleep?

Lack of sleep causes a build up of what’s called sleep debt. The longer you go without sleep, the more sleep debt you acquire and it will stay with you until you pay it off with deep refreshing sleep.

Ideally, you build up sleep debt during the day until you succumb to the pressure to pay it off just in time for bed where you go to sleep. You wake up in the morning feeling refreshed with all your sleep debt paid off, ready to start the day.

When you have a lack of sleep, you don’t get enough sleep to pay off the sleep debt and so you take it with you to the next day. Then if you don’t fully pay it off the next day, the surplus goes with you to the next and so on. It builds and builds, constantly dragging you down and potentially giving you the effects of sleep deprivation.

Signs of a lack of sleep

There are various signs to look out for that can be linked to a lack of sleep. These include:

  • Any of the patterns of insomnia
  • Feeling sleepy throughout the day
  • Not feeling refreshed after a nights sleep
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning
  • Feeling the need for napping constantly throughout the day
  • Feeling a need for coffee or energy drinks
  • Feeling the need to sleep in at the weekends to make up for lost sleep
  • Just not feeling your best

Prolonged lack of sleep can cause sleep deprivation and all the subsequent effects that come with it.

Testing for a Lack of Sleep

If you’re not completely sure if you’re getting enough sleep, these two tests will help you identify your levels of sleepiness & alertness throughout the day and help you identify whether or not they’re considered normal:

Causes of lack of sleep

There are three main causes of sleepiness. These are insufficient quantity of sleep, poor quality of sleep, or an abnormal need for sleep.

Insufficient Quantity of Sleep

The average hours of sleep you need each night is around 9 – 8 for teenagers and 8 – 7 for adults. This is only an average though. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Exactly how much you need is unique to you.

How can you tell how much you need? Your age is one key identifier, but really the only way to know exactly is by experimenting for yourself and monitoring your sleepiness through the tests mentioned above.

Lack of SleepWhile sleep changes with age, unfortunately your body can’t adapt to having less sleep than you need. Even if you think you have gotten used to getting less sleep, you probably either needed less sleep to begin with or have simply forgotten what it feels like to be at your best. If you really want to reduce the number of hours you sleep, the best way to do it is by adopting a different sleep pattern, although this can pose many challenges and is certainly not recommended for everyone.

Of course if you feel you need more hours in the day, the best thing to do is prioritise. For example, how many hours of TV do you watch per week? How much of that is useful to you, in say, a week’s time? Can you replace some of those hours with something more useful? There’s your extra time! Same goes for any other task that doesn’t really need doing.

Poor Sleep Quality

Having poor sleep quality means while being asleep, you’re staying in the lighter stages of sleep and not entering the deep refreshing stages needed to fully recharge you. Finding yourself constantly waking up in the night is a sign of poor quality of sleep.

Poor quality of sleep can be caused by stress, worry, excitement, illnesses and some medical problems.

Drinking alcohol before going to bed is one of the big causes of poor quality of sleep. While it might get you to sleep easier, it prevents you from entering the deeper stages of sleep. Your sleep would be much better off without it.

People with depression spend less time in the deeper stages of sleep and more time in REM sleep, a light stage of sleep where your brain is active. This is the state most dreams arise, explaining why many depressed people often have vivid dreams.

Abnormal Need for Sleep

If you’re sure you’re getting enough sleep, and have no reason to believe it’s of bad quality, you could have an abnormal need for sleep.

Remember that some people need more sleep than others, and especially younger people, but if you’re concerned about it you should seek advice from your doctor.

Needing more sleep can be caused by a medical problem, sleep disorder, depression or drug abuse.

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When you don’t get enough sleep you become a fraction of the person you’re capable of. Discovering the reason for your lack of sleep can help you get the best advice, make the right changes and get your sleep back on track.