Sleep deprivation is pretty common these days—it’s a major attribute of achievement-oriented societies—but why would anyone have a love-hate relationship with it? Usually, one would say, sleep deprivation and all the accompanying symptoms are the definition of a love-hate relationship, to the core.
Let me tell you something: you can use sleep deprivation for your own benefit. We’ll get into how this works, but first, let’s discuss the phenomenon of sleep, sleep deprivation and its symptoms, and finally design a “how to” experiment about sleep deprivation (commonly known as self-torture), and ask ourselves, more importantly, why?
“Sleep is a naturally recurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, […] and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles.” (Macmillan, 1981). This is a short and clear explanation:
- sleep is characterized by sleep stages/cycles (five cycles, differing in depth)
- the deeper your sleep, the better the quality of sleep
- More Sleep ≠ Better (healthy avg. 7.5-9 hours)
The functions of sleep are very multifaceted and majorly unexplored, but these (validated, and commonly accepted) aspects interest us the most right now. Sleep has a major impact:
- on our memory and the ability to re-organize thoughts, experiences and to learn new things (neuroplasticity)
- on the regulation of necessary hormones and the ability of our body to regenerate physically
What is Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation is the lack of sleep: either it was caused by a very superficial and short sleep (over a period of some days) or by no sleep at all. The functionality and benefits of sleep are limited as a result (see above), and we might face some serious problems, if we stay sleep-deprived for a prolonged period of time.
The effects of sleep deprivation are various; some occur instantly after acute deprivation, other occur only after chronic deprivation:
(by Mikael Häggström, Wikimedia Commons, 2009)
After acute deprivation:
- cognitive impairment
- memory lapses
- restricted judgement
- severe yawning
- increased heart-rate variability, increased reaction time and decreased accuracy
- temporary emotional instability
After chronic deprivation:
The effects of chronic deprivation boil down to the development of various diseases, such as:
- heart disease
- growth suppression
- restricted immune system functionality
- weight gain/loss
Due to the diversity of acute deficits, sleep deprivation has been used as a successful interrogation technique. In fact, the U.S. military authorised sleep deprivation as an interrogation method (Leave no Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality, August 2007).
But hey, why would there be a love-hate relationship here? What’s the benefit for us?!
How To (..and the benefits of sleep deprivation?!)
The effects of sleep deprivation on the human body were observed and analyzed in the 70s: the methodological monitoring involved blood analysis, but also neuropsychological instruments to capture the brain activity during sleep-deprivation and during recovery sleep after deprivation.
The results: “There’s evidence of antidepressive effect after sleep deprivation.”As a matter of fact, subjects experienced a 37.2 % improvement in their mood!
The background of these results are diverse—the reasons behind the remarkable mood improvement are, amongst others:
- biochemical investigations proved an increase of different hormones, including serotonin and noradrenaline, which are also known to function as a happiness hormone (serotonin) and stimulating hormone (noradrenaline)
- improved sleep continuity and depth in the night after sleep deprivation
These mentioned effects take action in depressed but also non-depressed people, meaning that you can stay awake for a night, begin the next day as you usually do and try to keep yourself awake (that’s not very easy!) and go to bed quite early → sleep like a baby → wake up the next morning with more power and energy.
By depriving yourself of sleep, you set your biological clock to zero— in case your time management is messed up and running out of fuel, this can very helpful (a love-
hate relationship). You can call sleep deprivation sleep hacking: at first we abstain from sleep, and later (during the recovery night) we slip into a very deep state of sleep, which will regenerate us.
Admittedly, sleep deprivation amongst healthy people is often met with skepticism, mainly because healthy subjects can regulate their sleep pattern in other ways (through nutrition, sleep hygiene and sleep rituals). On the other hand, sleep deprivation is free of any serious side effects and can serve as a quick fix. Here’s a short how-to:
- Perform your sleep deprivation “experiment” on the weekend (working in a sleep deprived state can be difficult)
- Keep yourself awake during your sleep deprivation night (and the following day) with the help of tea or coffee, but please don’t overdo it
- Go to bed early on your sleep-deprived day, and enjoy your deep recovery night (7.5 – 9 hours)
- Wake up powerful and energized, feeling like a million dollars
After your sleep deprivation experiment you should take care of a well-balanced diet and good sleeping habits—do not regress to old, negative tendencies. Sleep deprivation for a night can be applied easily, is highly effective and free of serious side effects. Have you already tried it? Share your experience with us!