Mental Effects of Sleep Deprivation (and How to Get Better Sleep)

by Bill Nguyen

The average American is notorious for being sleep-deprived. In fact, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 Americans do not get sufficient sleep on a regular basis. Results were based on identifying a healthy sleep duration as seven or more hours per night. But what harm can missing a few hours of nightly winks cause? And what steps can one take to ensure a better night’s rest?

REM sleep is a phase of sleep in which one’s ability to learn and memorize is enhanced. When this period of rest is interrupted or not reached at all, one may experience faltered memory or impaired thinking. This may affect how one functions throughout the day and may stunt productivity, as the person is in a constant state of drowsiness. Effects of sleep-deprivation may also prove lethal. For example, a weary individual may drive comparably (and, in some cases, worse than) someone who is under the influence of alcohol. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration marks driver fatigue as causing 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths every year.

But before solutions for achieving better sleep can be discussed, one must first address the factors contributing to bad sleep. Mental illness may play a paramount role in one’s inability to sleep. Individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, or ADHD may experience regular difficulty sleeping, inducing the aforementioned effects of sleep deprivation. However, a lack of sleep is commonly a result of an individual’s inability to maintain a regular and healthy sleep schedule, oftentimes due to a tight workload or poor time-management skills.

So what can one do to ensure a good night’s rest and avoid the detriments of sleep fatigue? For starters, an individual can greatly reduce their intake of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before going to bed as the three substances are infamous for causing restlessness. Eliminating their consumption entirely would be ideal, but a significant reduction in consumption would serve as a viable alternative. For those suffering from anxiety or any form of restlessness, meditation can help clear the mind from intrusive thoughts and allow one to fall asleep comfortably. Furthermore, those with busy schedules or poor time-management skills can reflect upon their situation and create a schedule that will best allow for regular sleep. Exercise can also lead to better sleep as it causes one to fall asleep faster and with fewer interruptions. Additionally, the National Sleep Foundation offers a resource for improving sleep hygiene. However, for those struggling with serious mental disorders or cases of restlessness, medication may be necessary for allowing proper sleep.

Sleep is vital to preserving one’s mental wellbeing. In order to remain healthy and alert, one must aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night (although the exact number varies depending on the individual). An individual struggling from sleep deprivation must take time to thoroughly address their situation, identify steps that can be taken to ensure a better night’s rest, and consider seeking support from a medical professional or psychologist specializing in sleep psychology.

Sources and Further Readings:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Report

Harvard University Article on Sleep Deprivation

Lesser-Known Facts on Sleep

National Sleep Foundation Resource