Sleep Deprivation: The Real Reason You are Losing Sleep

Did you know that it takes four days to fully recover from one hour of lost sleep? We spoke to a sleep medicine specialist to understand some subtle (and not so subtle) causes of poor sleep.

By Ameya Arora
19 Apr 2022

Did you know that we spend one-third of our lives just sleeping? Yes, you heard it right. Now you would probably realise that this factor alone is enough to explain the necessity of sleep in our lives. It is as vital as eating food, drinking water, and breathing. A good night’s sleep recharges your body and gives it a good time to heal.


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While you’re sleeping, your body remains active and performs important tasks to keep the body in shape. Your mental and physical health rejuvenates as various hormones and enzymes work effectively while your muscles are relaxed. A good night's sleep replaces the damaged cells, your body releases all the tension, and your mind gets free of the stress it has accumulated throughout the day.


Even though occasional interruptions in your sleep may not always bother you, if it becomes regular, it may lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, obesity, poor performance, lack of emotional wellbeing, and low quality of life as a whole.


If you frequently feel sleepy during the day, it can make you accident-prone, irritable, and likely to make poor decisions. Poor sleeping habits which may include sleeping late or having constantly interrupted sleep can lead to mood swings, low productivity and sleep disorders.


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Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia

According to Dr. M.S. Kanwar, a Senior Consultant and Advisor Pulmonary, Critical Care and founder of Sleep Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, “ If you feel a constant spell of feeling tired, daytime lethargy, difficulty in being productive and maintaining an emotional balance, it may be because of not getting enough sleep. A person who is not getting sufficient sleep at night, might be experiencing either onset insomnia or maintenance insomnia. Onset insomnia is when you experience difficulty in falling asleep in the first place. You may be in bed but you just can’t sleep, this can often cause irritability and overthinking.


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In maintenance insomnia, you might be able to sleep initially, but your sleep gets disrupted easily. As a result, you wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep again. Overall, your sleep gets compromised and you experience trouble working productively the next day.


Moreover, when a person is sleep-deprived, their arousal threshold is so low that even the slightest disturbances during sleep can wake them up. Dr. Kanwar shares that while a normal person would have 6 arousals, a person who is sleep deprived or has sleep apnea would have 40-50 arousals during their sleep. Sometimes a patient may even have hundreds of arousals. Thus, interruption of sleep is very easy and common.


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What Causes Sleep Deprivation?

There might be many reasons why you may be sleep-deprived, says Dr. Kanwar.


1. Hectic Work Schedule

There might be days when you have too much on your plate, causing you to work long hours. Dr. Kanwar emphasises on the fact that if you spend too much time on computers, you may feel more burdened at night, causing you to experience difficulty in sleeping. A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that using electronic devices for school, entertainment, or work purposes affects a person’s sleep-wake cycle. It also reported that increased screen time may very much be responsible for sleep deprivation. This correlation happens because when you use your smartphones, it produces a blue ray, which is similar to sunlight. Whenever you are in sunlight, you feel more alert and awake, similarly, produced by your phones and other screens cause you to feel more awake and alert, in turn disrupting your sleep cycle.


2. Going To Bed Late

A 2021 study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine has shown that along with the total hours of sleep that you get, it is also important to have a proper sleep cycle. Another study published in the European Heart Journal says that the optimal time to go to bed is 10pm. Sleeping late can disrupt various internal processes of the body, giving rise to a number of problems.


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3. Unsuitable Sleep Environment

“If you are one of those people who are forced to wake up around 6 or 7 in the morning because of reasons like noise, light, and other disturbances, continuing to sleep in such surroundings can make you deprived of sleep,” says Dr. Kanwar. Moreover, sleeping in rooms where the temperature is too hot or too cold can also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Lastly, uncomfortable bedding such as too soft or too stiff a mattress or pillow can also disrupt your sleep.


4. Anxiety

Dr. Kanwar believes that anxiety is one of the most crucial aspects which can lead to sleep deprivation, and eventually, insomnia. It is harder to fall asleep and stay asleep if you are in your bed with the motive to sleep, but spend the time worrying about your work, overthinking or planning about the future.


5. Your Profession

Sleep deprivation is a more crucial concern for shift workers. So because you need to report for work at different times each day, you may be unable to fix a proper sleeping pattern and the cycle never works smoothly. In the long run it affects your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm disorders look like when a person faces difficulty falling asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night, or too early in the morning, and not being able to go to sleep again. All these conditions can be responsible for making a person deprived of sleep.


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6. Obstructive sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious problem which may lead to sleep deprivation. In this condition, your breathing may be partially obstructed, as a result, your breath may repeatedly stop and start. Various pathological conditions including upper airway resistance syndrome, in which airways become so narrowed, resisting efficient airflow may also lead to sleep deprivation according to Dr. Kanwar.


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Making Up For Lost Sleep: Sleep Debt

Do you think that you can easily catch up for the missed sleep? Catching up on missed sleep at night is not exactly the same as getting the sleep you need in the first place. A 2016 study published in Scientific Reports found that it takes four days to fully recover from one hour of lost sleep. “As a result, those missing hours each day keep on adding up, making you more and more deprived of sleep,” explains Dr Kanwar.




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