How To Treat Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual receives an insufficient amount of sleep, typically less than seven to eight hours per night. Patients might experience acute sleep deprivation, in which they fail to obtain sufficient sleep for a few nights, and this could escalate to chronic sleep deprivation that continues for weeks, months, or years. Sleep deprivation reduces an individual's alertness, reaction time, and attention span, and it is associated with impaired judgment, an increase in risk-taking behavior, as well as an elevated risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Signs of sleep deprivation generally include fatigue, yawning, poor concentration, moodiness, and forgetfulness. In addition to mental health considerations, sleep deprivation can increase a person's risk for physical health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Patients who are struggling with sleep issues may be asked to undergo a sleep study.

Implement And Maintain Healthy Sleep Habits

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Patients who implement and maintain healthy sleep habits may be able to prevent sleep deprivation, and restoring a healthy sleep routine could even treat acute sleep deprivation. Experts recommend that patients go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, including Saturdays and Sundays. During the sixty minutes before bedtime, it is especially important to turn off computers, televisions, and mobile phones. Reading a book, taking a hot bath, and practicing meditation during this hour can all promote a smooth transition to sleep. Patients should not watch television or have screen time in their bedrooms, and they should avoid checking their phones in the middle of the night. Choosing a comfortable mattress and pillows is beneficial, and keeping the bedroom dark and cool will help as well. Blackout curtains can help enhance the darkness of a room if necessary.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

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Relaxation techniques such as practicing deep breathing and engaging in meditation or prayer could enable patients to fall asleep quickly. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is ideal for encouraging sleep. To try it, start with the lips gently parted. Exhale loudly and completely, and press the lips together before silently inhaling through the nose for four seconds. After holding the breath for seven seconds, exhale loudly for four to eight seconds. Beginners should repeat this exercise four times, and those who are more advanced could repeat it up to eight times. Patients may also want to engage in tai chi, yoga, or massage before bedtime, and many individuals find aromatherapy to be particularly soothing. Lavender scent helps to promote a sense of calm and sleep. It is beneficial to experiment with several different techniques to design a personalized pre-sleep ritual, and patients typically find a combination of techniques works best. Relaxation techniques take time to implement, and patients may want to try a particular activity for several weeks to evaluate its benefits. If these techniques do not work after several weeks, individuals could consider receiving training in biofeedback.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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Cognitive behavioral therapy could help patients struggling with sleep deprivation learn to identify unhealthy patterns in their sleep routine and implement effective changes. Mental health professionals who specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy teach patients to recognize the automatic negative thoughts that could be influencing their sleep, and they help patients challenge these thoughts to create positive changes in their lives. Therapists can help patients identify distorted thinking patterns and irrational beliefs, and imagery, visualization, mindfulness, and dialectical practices are used to enable the patient to change these distorted or irrational thoughts. Most patients continue cognitive behavioral therapy for at least four months. The therapy can be especially beneficial in helping the patient set and adhere to a healthy bedtime, and the techniques patients learn to challenge their thoughts could be useful in calming worries that may be waking the patient up in the middle of the night or preventing them from getting to sleep.

Treatment For Underlying Conditions

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Patients who experience sleep deprivation regularly should see their primary care physician for an initial evaluation, and they may be referred to several specialists for additional tests. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are two of the major conditions known to adversely impact a patient's sleep. Taking all medication as prescribed and keeping blood glucose under control could improve sleep quality. In particular, patients with musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis could have difficulty falling and staying asleep due to the significant pain that occurs with these conditions. Following a doctor's recommendations on exercise and taking prescribed pain relievers as directed could make sleeping easier. Patients with an overactive thyroid frequently experience nighttime sweating, and this usually wakes the patient from their sleep. Having regular thyroid function tests and taking the appropriate medication for this condition may reduce sweating enough for the patient to be able to sleep soundly.

Medication

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Medication to improve sleep may be considered for patients who continue to have sleep issues after trying lifestyle modifications and counseling. Certain sleeping aids help patients fall asleep, and others help with staying asleep. Some medications are formulated to help with both falling and staying asleep. For example, Rozerem, zaleplon, and zolpidem are designed to ease patients into sleep, and doxepin makes it easier to stay asleep. Temazepam, suvorexant, and eszopiclone perform both of these functions. All types of sleeping pills must be used with caution, particularly since some of them, including eszopiclone and temazepam, could lead to dependence. To reduce this risk, doctors will prescribe the lowest effective dose for the shortest amount of time necessary to improve the patient's symptoms. Individuals who use sleeping pills might experience side effects such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, and prolonged drowsiness. Some patients have also reported driving or eating while asleep, and sleeping medications can cause memory issues during the day. These side effects should be reported to the prescribing physician, and doctors will closely monitor patients during their treatment.


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Emily Fowler