According to the Sleep Council’s Great British Bedtime Report 2017, Britons are now getting less sleep than ever before, with nearly three-quarters of all people in the UK getting less than the minimum seven hours of sleep recommended.
With our increasingly busy and non-stop lives, everything from stress to too much screen time can lead to a loss of sleep - and it can often be hard to tell whether any noticeable symptoms are down to sleep deprivation or the stress causing it. That’s why we’ve decided to delve into the symptoms of sleep deprivation so you can find out for yourself whether you ought to be getting better rest.
What are the symptoms of sleep deprivation?
Fatigue - It may sound obvious, but one of the most recognisable symptoms of sleep deprivation is, well, tiredness. However, sleep deprivation can cause you to feel a little more than just sleepy; fatigue is far more serious and can cause a number of significant health complaints. Your muscles may begin to feel weary, and small physical movements may begin to feel difficult and unachievable. In fact, many sleep-deprived people describe similar symptoms to those of being drunk.
Pain - Headaches, stomach problems and muscle pain are all associated with fatigue, while many people experiencing sleep deprivation also describe feeling generally run down or poorly. Eyesight may also begin to suffer, with feelings of dizziness or a lack of focus causing imbalance and nausea.
Confusion and decreased productivity - Good sleep equals great brain function, so depriving ourselves of it can lead to real issues with judgement, problem-solving, planning and organisation. Memory functions usually decline, and sleep-deprived people may find themselves becoming forgetful or confused.
Affected mood - We can all be a little irritable when tired, but people suffering from sleep deprivation can experience prolonged periods of depression and anxiety. This is because a lack of sleep affects our frontal lobe, the part of the brain associated with mood disorders. This can lead to anger or irritation as well as more serious mental health issues.
Paranoia and hallucinations - At its most extreme, sleep deprivation begins to take a toll on our psychiatric health. Chronically fatigued people may feel delirious or paranoid and might begin to see things that aren’t there as well as becoming confused about where they are or who they are talking to. In fact, some doctors have described misdiagnosing sleep deprivation as paranoid schizophrenia because the symptoms are so similar.
The Spoon Test
Since the symptoms of sleep deprivation can be easily confused with other conditions, many doctors and sleep therapists recommend a simple test that can help diagnose sleep deprivation more accurately.
The Spoon Test – or Sleep Onset Latency Test – involves lying down on your bed with a spoon in one hand suspended above a metal tray on the floor. As you fall asleep, you will let go of the spoon and the noise of it hitting the tray will wake you up.
When you awake, you can use your watch or phone to check how long it took you to fall asleep. If you took 15 minutes or more, it means you are getting enough sleep. If you took 10 minutes, you may need to get more sleep. If you took five minutes or less, it’s likely that you’re chronically sleep deprived.
While few of us are likely to experience the most extreme symptoms of sleep deprivation, if you’ve been feeling muscle-weary, short-tempered, disorganised or just generally a bit run down of late, it could be that you’re not getting as much sleep as you need. While you can check out our top tips to combat sleep deprivation, you may wish to speak to your GP in case the symptoms are the result of something else.