Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Getting good sleep is essential in achieving good health status and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
It plays a crucial role in protecting mental and physical health and is as vital as physical activity and a balanced diet.
Although sleep needs vary between one person and another, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society recommend that adults consistently sleep seven or more hours per night to improve their health.
Good quality sleep consists of two components: duration and depth. Insufficiency of either of those two components might lead to sleep insufficiency.
Sleep insufficiency is defined as a lack of adequate, consistent sleep, resulting in decreased alertness, performance, and health due to an insufficient amount of the following:
- Quantity: decreased sleep duration, usually less than six or seven hours of total sleep time per night.
- Quality: repetitive short sleep interruptions, also known as fragmentation of sleep.
Sleep insufficiency is relatively prevalent. Adults who reported a sleep duration of fewer than seven hours per night exceeded one-third of the American population.
Interestingly enough, sleep health disparities were found among different groups of people.
For example, studies have shown sleep deprivation to be more prevalent among young people (<65 years old), males, African Americans, people with low socioeconomic status, full-time workers, and college students.
Causes of Poor Sleep
As mentioned above, sleeping for long hours alone is not enough to avoid sleep deprivation.
You can sleep eight or more hours and yet end up sleep deprived due to disturbances leading to poor sleep quality.
Sleep quality is fixed mainly on the number of episodes of arousals during the night; five or more arousals per hour of sleep can lead to performance deficits. Those episodes of arousals can be caused by but not limited to:
- Acute illness (e.g., cough, sore throat, fever)
- Chronic health issues (e.g., sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome)
- Lifestyle habits (e.g., smoking, alcohol, caffeine, illicit drugs)
- Taking care of a baby or a child
What is Sleep Debt?
This article is looking at sleep debt, or in other words, accumulated sleep deprivation.
Acute sleep deficit can occur when a full night of sleep is missed, or it may gradually develop over multiple nights of partially disrupted sleep, called sleep debt.
Although a slight reduction in sleep hours may not have apparent effects on performance or health, an accumulation of sleep deficit over multiple nights will negatively impact health as much as missing a full night of sleep.
Restorative Sleep for Health
Diagnostic criteria for insufficient sleep syndrome specify that a lack of sleep results in daytime sleepiness leading to:
- Cognitive Impairment: Studies showed that sleep deprivation affects cognition and work performance as sleep-deprived individuals tend to take more time to respond to stimuli and complete tasks.
- Affected mood and Judgement: Sleep deprivation may cause psychological symptoms similar to depression, such as irritability, decreased libido, fatigue, and poor judgment.
- Sleepiness and Microsleeps: Sleep deprivation results in a desperate need for sleep that cannot always be controlled. Daytime sleepiness and microsleeps can have life-threatening consequences (e.g., car accidents).
- Cardiovascular Morbidity: As stated by the American Heart Association, sleep deprivation is considered one of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and healthy sleep is recommended to promote cardiac health.  The consequences mentioned above concerning sleep deprivation massively affect individuals in terms of health, productivity, safety, and happiness. Therefore, having a sufficient amount of sleep is crucial in maintaining a good quality of life and enhancing health.
Get Back to Sleep
Although the consequences of sleep deprivation can be catastrophic, getting sleep back on track can reverse them. The following are a few tips to overcome sleeping problems:
- Maintain good sleep hygiene
- Avoid naps in the late afternoon
- Exercise daily
- Minimize light and noise as they significantly impact sleep
- Avoid cigarettes, caffeine, and heavy meals in the evening
- Avoid alcohol. While alcohol use seems to help some individuals fall asleep, studies have shown that alcohol intake can increase episodes of fragmented sleep, reducing sleep quality. 
- Practice quiet activities that may enhance sleep, such as reading with a dim light.
- Avoid the use of electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Sleep helps you heal from all the physical and psychological stress experienced throughout your day and prepare you to start your next day with optimal energy and concentration.
Moreover, it protects your body and your brain from the catastrophic side effects of sleep deprivation.
Sleeping problems should never be ignored. Seeing a doctor specializing in sleep is recommended if you continue to have difficulty obtaining sufficient sleep despite previously mentioned tips.
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