What Are the Causes of Sleep Deprivation?

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  • Written By: H. Colledge
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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The condition known as sleep deprivation occurs when an individual is not able to fall asleep or remain asleep for as long as is necessary. This results in psychological and physical symptoms which make it difficult to function normally when carrying out everyday activities. In some cases, the causes of sleep deprivation may be under an individual's control, as is the case when someone decides to pursue a frantic lifestyle that leaves little time for sleep. Aging can affect sleep patterns, unhelpful eating or sleeping habits may lead to a lack of sleep, and in some cases insomnia can be learned. Other sleep deprivation causes may include stress, psychological or physical problems, medication side effects and drug abuse.

While many people require around eight hours of sleep a night to feel refreshed, the right amount of sleep varies according to the individual. Some people may need only four hours each night while others could find nine hours are essential. Almost everyone experiences acute sleep deprivation at some point, where sleep is temporarily disrupted. In the short term, the causes of sleep deprivation are typically problems such as a stressful event, an illness, or taking in too much alcohol or caffeine. Often, the problem is resolved and normal sleep resumes, but in some cases insomnia persists and long-term, or chronic, sleep deprivation is the result.


Following a stressful event, insomnia may become a habit if a person starts to associate the place where he or she sleeps with a feeling of wakefulness. Conditions such as depression and anxiety are often associated with insomnia, and physical illnesses which cause pain or breathing difficulties can also interfere with sleep. A disorder known as sleep apnea is one of the common causes of sleep deprivation. It leads to episodes where breathing stops, which occur throughout the night and cause wakening.

The treatment of sleep disorders varies according to each condition. Some causes of sleep deprivation can be managed by improving what is known as sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene involves sticking to a consistent sleep routine, never remaining in bed while awake and avoiding daytime naps. Caffeine is only taken in the morning, and the intake of food, drink and stimulants before bedtime is minimized.

A number of psychological therapies are also available which can help to improve sleep. If existing causes of sleep deprivation have been treated and non-drug therapies have failed to work, then, as a last resort, what is called hypnotic medication may be used to promote sleep. Only a short course of tablets is usually given, because side effects such as dependency can occur if such drugs are taken continuously.



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