If you constantly burn the midnight oil, you may have gotten over the initial exhaustion that accompanies sleepless nights and feel that you are functioning well without a lot of sleep. Studies show that the average adult needs between seven to eight hours sleep a night to avoid serious sleep deprivation. If you consistently get less than this, you may be able to cope but you will not be operating at your optimum capacity.
Sleep deprivation affects your whole body – your body cannot repair itself properly and does not get adequate rest so you find that aches and pains last longer and that your body takes longer to heal. The most profound effect, however, is on the brain. Brain functions in a sleep deprived person are severely impaired. Tests show that sleep deprivation can affect drivers as badly as drinking alcohol. If you are sleep deprived, your reflexes are slower and you will find that you cannot react as quickly as you should. The worst effect is on your memory – you will find that your short-term memory is affected the most by sleep deprivation.
As the sleep deprivation progresses, you will eventually find that your ability to memorise and recall information is severely impaired making it virtually impossible to properly study. This can have a knock on effect in social situations as well – you may be unable to call remember the names of people you have met and may not be able to call on information as you need it.
What can you do?
The most obvious answer, to sleep more, is not always as simple as it sounds. If you are having trouble falling asleep, some simple lifestyle changes are indicated in order to get you to bed earlier. First of all, make sure that your bed and pillows offer adequate support and are comfortable.
Make sure that you bedroom has enough air, is dark, cool and as quiet as possible. Establish a regular night-time routine in order to let your body know that bed-time is coming. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after two in the afternoon. Do not exercise within four hours of bed-time. Most importantly, get up at the same time every day, regardless of what time you got to sleep – getting into a regular routine is the only way to reset your sleep patterns.
If all of the above do not work, it is time to try some home remedies such as a warm bath about an hour before bed, warm milk or chamomile tea. If home remedies do not work, consult your doctor but be sure to use sleeping tablets only as a last resort. If you have to go onto sleeping tablets, make sure that it is not for longer than a couple of weeks.
The good news is that the effects of sleep deprivation on memory are reversible and you will see an immediate improvement when you start sleeping properly again.