Physical effects of sleep deprivation and psychological effects of sleep deprivation

The physical effects of sleep deprivation can affect your functioning, and the psychological effects of sleep deprivation can affect it even more. And since sleep is often one of the first things to go when you are worried about your loved one or when you are wondering how to get everything done, it's important to find a way to get more sleep as soon as possible.

A caregiver has multiple demands and trying to fulfill those demands can result in sleep deprivation. At the end of a day of work, helping your loved one and household chores, it can be hard to fall asleep or easy to wake up in the middle of the night. You wake up thinking about unfinished to-dos, problems to solve, and what happened that day or what needs to happen the next day.

Most of us have some basic understanding of sleep and that it's important, yet we try to beat the need for sleep so we can achieve more. Even little achievements at work or home might be too much if there are too many of them. Of course achieving a major goal, like helping someone recover from a serious illness, can usurp our needs for sleep. And so in our interest to do it all, we let our sleep suffer.

What does Zen say about sleep? Sleep when you are tired!

In other words, pay attention to the needs of you body. Be gentle to yourself just as you try to be gentle to others. Don't beat yourself up. What happens when you push the envelope? When you try to beat your need for sleep? Problems! I can tell you from personal experience.

I have always needed a lot of sleep (about 9-10 hrs) and at one point in my life, I didn't like that. So I started experimenting with sleep. My father kept telling me--"it's useless--you've always needed a lot of sleep and that's that!" I persisted and I didn't care about the physical effects of sleep deprivation or the psychological effects of sleep deprivation. So, during a heavy work period, I ran an experiment:

How many days can I go without sleep and what will happen to me?

I was an amateur and could only last around 3 days or so with no sleep during a total of about 11 days with very little sleep. I can report to you that the physical effects of sleep deprivation included an ever increasing feeling like energy was draining out of my body--my muscles, my bones. After just a night or two of no sleep, walking felt like floating. I became less sure-footed. My speech started slurring and responses were delayed.

Mental and psychological effects of sleep deprivation from this experiment included: drifting thought patterns with an inability to stay focused, more religious thoughts and associations, physical boundaries being blurred, discussions with friends having multiple layered meanings, visual perception of solid objects breaking down into smaller particles, etc.

Functioning was impacted dramatically. Due to impaired discrimination in thinking, I could not draw clear consequences of thought, speech and action. I was unable to express myself clearly. My mood changed more quickly than usual and initially was more depressed, but as the days went by, developed into periods of mania bordering on a sort of religious ecstasy. Imagination was enhanced and less controlled.

When the experiment ended, I went to bed and quickly caught up on sleep and felt rested. The physical effects of sleep deprivation and the psychological effects of sleep deprivation had seemingly dissipated. This quick catchup that the body/mind does after a period of not sleeping has been documented in studies. It's quite amazing.

Of course, my experiment was extreme--as a caregiver you probably don't go days without sleep, but rather days with less sleep. But the negative effects of sleep deprivation cropped up very quickly, even in the first night. Now imagine having many days, weeks or months being sleep deprived (like new parents!)

Here's a partial list of the physical effects of sleep deprivation and the psychological effects of sleep deprivation that most people experience:

- impaired ability to think
- impaired ability to handle stress
- impaired immune system
- reduced concentration
- impaired memory
- irritability
- depression
- slower reaction times
- blurred speech

Now imagine trying to be effective at helping your loved one. It's not easy without adequate sleep, in fact it can be dangerous. Here are a few research studies on physical effects of sleep deprivation and psychological effects of sleep deprivation:

Significant number of driving accidents (56,000 attributed to drowsiness and fatigue according to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1996), poorer grades in school (Wolfson and Carskadon), major catastrophes like Three Mile Island and the Challenger Disaster due to micro-sleep periods (Mitler), decreased IQ (Coren), increased risk of breast cancer (Ohsaki Cohort Study), and the list goes on.

How to sleep?

Clearly it's important to sleep well as a caregiver. In fact, it may be more important because you are a caregiver. Your loved one is relying on you for loving attention and effective, practical help. Not sleeping enough will impact both of these negatively. So how to sleep? Click on the link to take you to a list of tips for sleeping that helped me during the really tough times. Maybe some of them will help you.


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