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How to tell if you're 'just tired' or full-on sleep deprived

Lisa Fogarty


Lisa Fogarty

Lisa Fogarty has written numerous articles for USA Today, The Stir, Opposing Views and other publications. She has covered everything from red carpet events to the discovery of toxic PCBs on school windows. She lives on Long Island, N.Y....

Constant fatigue could have serious consequences

We could all use more of it and many of us feel like we can never get enough of it. And, no, I'm not referring to sex.

A lack of sleep can affect your health and well-being in many ways. In fact, we may not even be aware of the signs of sleep deprivation that we're experiencing because they've, sadly, become just another part of our daily lives.

But, it's important to know that the mood swings, headaches and even changes in appetite you may be experiencing could be rooted in a lack of sleep.

"Sleep is a vital process to our biology. It’s important to realize that people over time develop sleep debt from a lack in quality and quantity," says Brandon Mentore, a strength and conditioning coach, functional medicine practitioner and sports nutritionist. "You can’t negate sleep debt by sleeping more which is a common perception, all you can do is pay it down a little."

More: The best and worst sleeping positions for chronic pain

Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says the recommended amount of sleep adults are encouraged to get is 7-8 hours each night. Sleep is so critical that it doesn't take much to begin exhibiting signs of sleep deprivation. "If there are several nights where you are losing 1 to 2 hours per night this can cause signs of sleep deprivation," Ross says. "The hour’s loss during each night accumulates and is impossible to get back."

Know the signs of sleep deprivation

Here are six signs of sleep deprivation that Mentore says are common.

1. You suffer from gaps in energy during the day: If your energy levels spike at times when you would normally be asleep and lag during the day, you can count this as one example of what can happen when your body hasn't had a sufficient amount of quality rest.

2. Your ability to make decisions over two or more options is hampered: Ever wonder why you crave chocolate cake after getting just three hours of sleep? Not only does a lack of rest interrupt your appetite, it also reflects in your inability to make good choices throughout the day — often when it comes to food. "If the deliberation requires more effort than you mentally have to give, you will most likely pick the easier choice, which is usually correlated with a poor nutritional choice," Mentore says.

More: 21 Tips to finally get better sleep

3. Your ability to make consequential decisions is hampered as well: You're more likely to make a decision based on present needs and desires rather than future outcomes, Mentore says — which basically means do not make any big purchases unless you've had 7-9 hours of sleep.

4. You're easily distracted: It isn't just your imagination. When you haven't slept enough, you may find yourself unable to focus on one task long enough to complete it to satisfaction. A lack of sleep certainly makes for a less productive workday.

5. You're in a bad mood: The good news is: If you find yourself feeling more irritable, impulsive, moody or depressed than usual, it might not be you, but rather you on no sleep... which makes sense because you always suspected you were a much more wonderful person than you have been letting on lately, right?

More: How to look less tired when you're short on sleep

6. Physical and emotional changes: Drops in body temperature are also a sign of sleep deprivation, Mentore says, and people who aren't sleeping enough typically have unstable amounts of energy to dedicate to physical, mental and even emotional tasks.

Unfortunately, a lack of sleep is also associated with far more serious consequences than mood disruptions. "Car accidents, leading to dangerous injuries and death, are also associated with sleep deprivation," Ross says. "In the older population, there is an increased incidence of falls and broken bones. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity and depression."

How to fix the problem

Now that we know how sleep deprivation can affect us, the next question is: How can we get enough sleep every night when we have anxiety about our jobs, relationships, kids or are taking care of a newborn who refuses to sleep? Sleep expert and motivational speaker Robin Palmer offers five easy tips on how we can all rest better.

1. Create a sleep-inducing environment: Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool to promote sleep. Limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex only and keep computers, TVs and any and all work materials out of the room. Taking these simple steps will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep, Palmer says.

2. Turn off your electronic devices: There's nothing worse than trying to fall asleep with a blinking light in your face. Turn off your electronic devices and stop checking email before you go to sleep. "Instead, infuse these magical moments with inspiration, and envision fulfilling your goals and dreams," Palmer says. "If you don’t want your subconscious mind to have you tossing and turning all night, steer clear of the negative noise and electronic energy your electronic devices (sic) before bedtime."

3. Fall asleep to inspirational messages: If a quiet room just increases your anxiety, look into a program like My Good Night Messages, which contains sleep-inducing messages like relaxing meditations, sleep tips and tools from Palmer and psychoneurologist Dr. Sylva Dvorak.

4. End your day with deep breathing: Meditation is a powerful, totally free tool at your disposal. If you aren't sure how to start, Palmer offers this easy breathing exercise, which can be done in bed: Close your eyes and inhale through your nose slowly for seven counts. Hold the breath for seven counts. Then, exhale slowly through your nose for seven counts and hold again for seven counts. "Repeat this breathing pattern three or more times," she says. "You’ll notice that you feel more relaxed when you end your day with breathing deeply."

5. Watch what you ingest: If you want to rest better, Palmer advises against eating or drinking anything with caffeine, sugar, nicotine and other sleep-interfering chemicals in the evening.

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