Chronic sleep deprivation is defined as a long-term lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation can result from a variety of factors, including sleep apnea, stress, drug or alcohol use or a busy lifestyle. This condition affects millions of people worldwide each year and can lead to weight gain, depression, decreased attention span and increased risk of diabetes and heart problems. Sleep deprivation plays a major role in many automobile and industrial accidents each year.
While each person needs a different amount of sleep to function effectively, most adults should try to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep each night. Adolescents should receive at least nine hours. Any less than that can lead to chronic sleep deprivation as a person builds up a sleep debt over time.
Many factors can cause chronic sleep deprivation. Staying up late to study or for work over an extended period of time is one major cause and can be dealt with through behavioral changes. Lack of sleep stemming from disorders such as insomnia and apnea is harder to treat. Getting to sleep and staying asleep is difficult for people with insomnia, even if they have enough time in their schedule for a full sleep cycle. Apnea and other sleep breathing disorders can disrupt sleep without a person being fully aware of the problem.
Patients who are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation should seek help from a medical professional. Sleep clinics can often diagnose sleep disorders and prescribe drugs or behavioral changes. Many sleep disorders can only be diagnosed by closely monitoring a patient during sleep. If a patient is diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, a doctor may recommend surgery or continuous positive airway pressure therapy.
Regardless of the cause, chronic sleep deprivation can have severe effects on a person's life. Besides a feeling of persistent tiredness, sleep deprived people often have difficulty fulfilling work and home responsibilities. Sleep deprived students can fall behind in school and have more problems remembering information. Sleep deprivation can lead to a weakened immune system, leaving a person vulnerable to other diseases. Depression and other mental illness are sometimes caused or worsened by lack of sleep.
A patient suffering from sleep deprivation should limit his intake of caffeine and alcohol. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can also help a person get a good night's rest. Try to relax before bedtime and avoid watching television or browsing the Internet while in bed. Limit the use of sleeping pills to avoid chemical dependency.