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How to cope with sleep deprivation

Updated on July 4, 2014

Have you heard people saying, “Life is hectic”, “Time flies” and “I work 24/7”? These concepts are all man-made. Time is relative. It is something you follow with clocks and calendars. You know there are seconds in minutes, minutes in hours, hours in days, days in weeks and weeks in years. You also know that there are years to your life, but you don’t know how many. This may be one of the reasons why you are pressurised by time. You are mortal. You won’t always have time to do everything you want to do. Some people know how to manage their time effectively, but even they have limited time. Your knowledge of time passing may cause pressure and pressure, in turn, causes stress.

If stress and the fast pace of life leaves you feeling anxious, you may find that sleep evades you during the night when you need it the most. A lack of sleep affects your health. People who have sleeping problems tend to think that it’s insomnia. Insomnia means ‘having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night’. They may be right because insomnia is a sleep disorder, but there are many other types of sleep disorders that can affect you. Any sleep disturbance or sleep disorder is usually associated with a neurological disease.


Types of sleep disorders


When you have insomnia, you will battle to fall asleep. There is no specific cause for this. When you eventually fall asleep, your sleeping cycle will be interrupted more than once during the night, again without any specific cause. Episodes of insomnia can be short lived or chronic.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS)

If you have DSPS, you will battle to fall asleep when you should. Because there is a delay in falling asleep, you will have difficulty waking up at a desired time. Once you fall asleep, sleep maintenance is not a problem.

Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (ASPS)

With ASPS, you will feel a need to sleep early in the evening. You will also wake up in the early hours of the morning. You will go to bed between 6 and 9 pm and wake up in the early morning between 1 and 5 am. There are no signs of other sleep disorders.


Hypersomnia is characterised by excessive sleepiness during the day. You can fall asleep at any time during the day, even when you are driving. You may also have other sleep disorders.


Apnea means ‘no breath’. Instead of having a healthy sleep cycle every night, your sleep is interrupted by an episode of apnea, which may last from ten seconds to two or three minutes. If you suffer from apnea, you will have trouble breathing. You will find yourself gasping for air many times during the night. You will fall asleep for short intervals only to repeat the apnea again and again. Apnea leaves you tired during the day. You may suffer with your blood pressure, which can lead to heart failure or a stroke. Apnea affects people of all ages, even children.

There are three types of apnea:

  • Central apnea: the brain’s respiratory control center doesn’t trigger regular breathing.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: the upper airway at the back of the throat closes and air movement is blocked.
  • Mixed apnea: a combination of central apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.


This is a neurological condition that causes excessive daytime sleepiness. It is a sleeping disorder that starts between the ages of 10 and 30. Many people simply fall asleep in the middle of their daily routine. The automatic shutdown is misleading. If you are suffering from narcolepsy, you will appear to be normal, but you will lack the ability to remember certain periods of time during the day. Behaviour becomes automatic. While many think you are lazy or retarded, you are in effect suffering this sleep disorder.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)

This is a sleep disorder where your arms or legs jerk and twitch during sleep. These movements will awaken you many times each night leaving you with serious sleep debt.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RL)

You will not be able to fall asleep because sensations deep inside your leg muscles and knees cause a powerful urge to move your legs. A lack of exercise, poor circulation, caffeine intake and alcohol consumption can aggravate the condition.


When you fall asleep, you will involuntarily grind or clench your teeth, which leads to jaw discomfort. You will be awakened because of this discomfort.


If you suffer nocturia, you will have the need to get up several times to go to the bathroom.

These are merely a few examples. Whether you are only occasionally deprived of sleep or suffer serious sleep debt, it can have a disastrous effect on your life. It not only affects your career, finances, relationships, and daily routine, but has a detrimental effect on your health and even lifespan.

Ways to help you sleep

A healthful sleep cycle is very important for mental health. When you are regularly deprived (voluntarily or involuntarily) of sleep, you suffer from shortened attention spans, memory and vocabulary loss, a lessened ability to think in an analytical or creative way. Treatment may be needed if you battle to sleep. While people have different sleep needs, as an individual, you should always strive to get quality sleep. If the problem is not too serious, here are a few things that you can do to help you sleep.

Avoid day time napping

Taking a nap during the day has its benefits. It helps you to relax, reduces fatigue, increases alertness and even improves your mood, performance and memory. If you have trouble sleeping at night, you shouldn’t take a nap during the day. You shouldn’t try to catch up on lost sleep. If you are really tired and feel anxious about lost sleep, make sure to set your alarm and take a nap of 20 minutes only. Even if you don’t sleep during the 20 minutes, you will still be resting. It may take time to get your mind used to the idea of not sleeping during the day, but eventually you will have to stop taking naps during the day so that you can sleep effectively during the night.

Do moderate exercises several times a week

The key word here is ‘moderate’. Strenuous exercise especially later in the day will not help you to improve your sleep. When you exercise, the stress responsive systems are activated, and the hormones cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline are released. If you exercise moderately, like walking, you will be able to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep much longer than usual.

Try to quit smoking

The stimulating effects of nicotine when smoking cigarettes cause heart palpitations. A craving for nicotine occurs day and night. Sleep is disrupted at night because of it. Smoking causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which means you feel elated after smoking a cigarette. This will prevent you from sleeping. If you develop a ‘smoker’s cough’ and other related problems, your sleep will also be disrupted.

Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day so as to establish a regular sleep rhythm

Establish a sleep pattern by getting into a daily routine. Go to bed at the same time every night and set the alarm to wake up at the same time every morning. The amount of sleep that you need will vary from the amount other people need. Once you’re in a routine, you will be able to determine how much you need. Over weekends, don’t set the alarm clock so that you can wake up naturally. Most adults need seven to eight hours a night. Remember, there are different stages of sleep and they occur in cycles. These cycles last between one to two hours. The cycles are: pre-sleep, light sleep, slow wave sleep, REM (Rapid Eye Movement). You can easily have five cycles of sleep during a normal night.

Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, cocoa, chocolate, cola-based drinks, coffee or tea at night or near bedtime

Excessive consumption of tea or coffee and drinking alcohol can cause heart palpitations. When you experience palpitations it may prevent you from falling sleeping.


Avoid physical and mental stimulation before bedtime

The brain and body needs to relax before bedtime. Relaxation exercises can help to reduce anxiety. Mental exercises for muscle relaxation (going through each muscle group and tensing and relaxing it) and deep breathing can also help the mind and body to relax.

Take a warm bath or shower before bedtime

When you take a warm shower or bath and enter your room (which is cooler), your body temperature will drop. This will help to slow down essential metabolic functions, heart rate, breathing and digestion.

Keep the bedroom quiet, dark and cool

It is good to try and relax in the dark before going to sleep. Darkness makes the brain release melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles. Keeping the room temperatures between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius (60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit) will help you to fall asleep. Placing a hot-water bottle at the feet will help blood vessels to dilate quickly, which will lower core body temperatures.

Avoid sleep-inducing medication (habit-forming)

It is best to avoid pills that induce sleep because they aren’t always effective. In some cases they have adverse effects like daytime-drowsiness, loss of concentration or memory disorders and withdrawal symptoms.

If you have tried most of these techniques and you still have difficulty sleeping, it may need professional treatment. It is wise then to make an appointment with a doctor who specialises in sleeping problems.


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    • Karin Steyn profile imageAUTHOR

      Karin Steyn 

      7 years ago

      Thank you, Sid.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 

      7 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      This is very good information and advice. I would add that learning gentle styles of meditation are good, both to help with going to sleep, and also to allow the body to feel rested even when we can't sleep as much as we'd like. Voted up and useful.


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