We’ve all pulled an all-nighter. Back in the glory days of college, it was easy to study all night and bounce back the next day with a quick nap after classes. But in the adult reality in everyday life, sleep deprivation can be a real problem. The bottom line is that not sleeping makes you more than tired. It impairs your basic ability to function.
Tanya Rutledge knows the realities of sleep deprivation all too well. The stress of juggling a full-time job and raising two young children has made sleeping extremely difficult. “I wake up at 4 am, 5 am, 6 am, and I’m frustrated and stressed that I’m awake,” she said. “By the time I’m up for the day, I’m exhausted.”
Being tired at work makes Tanya fear the effects it will have on her performance as a newspaper editor. “I haven’t made any major mistakes, but it’s a constant battle to strive for accuracy,” she confessed. Like others who get through the day on little sleep, Tanya turns to caffeine to stay awake. “About 10 am, I start drinking Diet Cokes. I try not to drink more than three each day,” she said.
Another woman began taking Ambien when she was suffering from insomnia. As a morning news reporter, her professional schedule required that she wake up for work at 2 am. While she adapted to this schedule during the week, she was unable to get to sleep on the weekends when she tried to follow a more normal routine.
After starting Ambien she thought her problems were over. “It works so well in the beginning,” she said. However, she soon needed more in order to stay asleep and eventually took four times her prescribed amount. “It doesn’t work as well the longer you’re on it, so you have to take more.”
In order to take more than she was prescribed, this woman switched doctors and pharmacies several times to multiply her prescriptions. After abusing Ambien for seven years, she finally decided to get some help. “It took me a year to wean myself off of it and it was awful. In the process of stopping, you flat out can’t go to sleep,” she said.
Her advice to anyone taking prescription sleep aids is to pay attention to how long they are being taken. “If you’re on it longer than a week, then you’re hooked and you probably don’t even know it,” she said. “I will never, never, never take it again.”
These women are not alone in their quests for rest and rejuvenation. About 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men suffer from insomnia. Few people actually get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Trying to balance responsibilities at work and at home leave people lying awake at night, making lists in their heads, and worrying about things that didn’t get checked off the to-do list.
According to Dr. Aparajitha Verma, a neurologist with the Sleep Disorders Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute, sleep deprivation is a serious situation that affects the ability to focus and concentrate. Trying to function on too little sleep leads to impaired judgment that can be dangerous. “Losing even two hours of sleep a night can have a cumulative and damaging effect,” she says.
One of the ways sleeplessness turns into chronic insomnia is the anxiety that builds as night approaches. Tossing and turning for a couple of nights in a row can quickly turn into a week of not sleeping, as you begin to worry about not being able to fall asleep.
When counting sheep hasn’t worked, sleep medications often seem like a great solution. Television is saturated with commercials showing people peacefully drifting off to sleep and waking up refreshed after taking any number of available prescription medications. But, the possibility of becoming dependent on sleeping pills is a frightening reality.
In the fast-paced world we live in, it’s no wonder experts agree the underlying cause of sleep deprivation is almost always stress, anxiety, or depression. The best way to catch some zzz’s on a long-term basis may be to try to solve the real cause of what is keeping you awake. Working on reducing your general anxiety level can go a long way toward getting a good night’s sleep.
Losing sleep every once in awhile is normal, as long as it doesn’t become a pattern. If it’s been days, weeks, or even months since you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you’re not alone. There won’t be a quick solution to the problem, but there is hope.