Without a good night’s sleep we are unable to learn, create and work to our maximum potential and our communication and logic skills are impaired. Getting the right amount of sleep can make the rest of your day and life much more productive. 

Mental health issues can cause and exacerbate sleep problems, and sleep problems can prolong and make worse many mental health issues, creating a multidysfunctional cycle. Stress, anxiety and depression are three psychological causes of insomnia. In turn dysfunctional sleep patterns and insomnia can make it very difficult for the brain to rest, process information and recuperate fully, making it harder to recover from these disorders. It is important that we track any major sleep changes and discuss these with our GP as quite often when healthy sleep patterns are resumed symptoms of anxiety and depression can ease.

Even for those with perfect mental health, sleep deprivation can cause many unwanted physical and psychological effects. 

The effects of sleep deprivation (chronic lack of sleep)

The more sleep deprived you are, the more symptoms you are likely to experience, and the more severe the symptoms you do experience. These symptoms can include:

  • Mood disturbance, irritability
  • Reduced problem-solving ability
  • Reduced concentration
  • Lethargy, tiredness and lack of motivation
  • Reduced immunity
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Decreased memory 
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Increased risk of diabetes and heart disease
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Disjointed thinking
  • Being more easily distracted.
  • And in serious cases: hallucinations/waking dreams

How much sleep do we need?

According to the National Institutes of Health in the US, the average adult sleeps less than 7 hours per night. Again sources vary as to the ‘optimum’ amount of sleep we need – and please note we are all slightly different and factors such as age, the amount of physical activity we do in a day and even genetics will play a part in this. 

There is, however, a general rule of thumb: most healthy adults need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Children, teenagers and the elderly have different and varying sleep needs. Although elderly people tend to sleep less during the night, often they will need to nap in the day, adding up to give 8-9 hours’ sleep in a 24-hour period. Teenagers, on the other hand, need more sleep – they are not just being lazy! Adolescents aged between 12 and 18 generally need between 8.5 and 10 hours of sleep per night, which is believed to be down to hormones and lifestyle factors. What is also different about teenagers’ sleeping patterns is that they seem to need to go to sleep later and wake up later. Neil Stanley, a sleep researcher at the University of East Anglia, says: “If sleep is important for memory and learning, and dealing with emotions, and repair and recuperation, then teenage years have an awful lot of that. So that might explain the increased need for sleep, but it doesn't explain the change in timing of sleep”.

Am I getting enough sleep?

Well, there are some clues that can indicate to us that we are not sleeping long enough. These include:

  • Feeling unrefreshed / unable to get out of bed (although oversleeping can also make you feel this way)
  • Feeling irritable and unable to cope with stress
  • Needing / wanting to sleep in the afternoon
  • Relying on the alarm clock to wake you instead of waking naturally at the same time each day
  • Reduced immunity
  • Difficulty concentrating, likely to be worse in the afternoon
  • Falling asleep very quickly.

If you are struggling with sleep disruption then please do see your GP. There is much that can be done and our sleep section has hints, sleep tips and information that can help, but if self-help measures are proving ineffective we strongly recommend seeking professional help.

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