Research has shown that sleep deprivation is something that we generally cannot recognize in ourselves. Our conscious brains think that we are managing just fine when we are actually cognitively and physically impaired, and that means that we are posing a risk to ourselves and those around us when we get behind the wheel or operate heavy machinery, and are putting ourselves out into the world when we are more impaired than if we were legally drunk.
If you think you’re not sleep deprived but find yourself doing any of the following things, then think again – they’re a pretty good sign that you need to make up for a serious sleep shortage.
• When you wake up in the morning, you’re very silly
It’s one think to wake up with a spring in your step and something entirely different to border on mania. If your behavior is out of sync with everybody else and you feel like singing at the breakfast table or find yourself laughing hysterically at something that really isn’t all that funny, it’s a good sign that your brain is struggling to get itself balanced and you’re seriously overstimulated. Though you may think this is a good thing, you actually need to keep a good hold on yourself or risk the very real possibility that you will say or do something completely inappropriate during the day.
• You can’t manage juggling keys, holding coffee and opening your car door at once
Or some similar combination of unwieldy tasks. You know what we’re talking about here. We all go through these strange contortions every day as part of our regular routine, but something that you normally have the ability to manage suddenly becomes completely unwieldy and difficult for you. Sleep deprivation can lead directly to a shut-down of the finer points of your psychomotor skills and coordination, making it so that the hand-eye coordination that you don’t even know that you rely upon every day becomes as difficult as climbing Mount Everest.
• Your moods are completely out of control
You find yourself feeling overly sensitive, emotionally vulnerable and hot and bothered at every turn. Every comment feels like a criticism, and when somebody doesn’t acknowledge you it feels like a snub. Sleep deprivation confounds our body’s system that regulate our emotions, so things that would normally be unnoticeable or ignored become very big deals. According to a study conducted at Harvard Medical School, just two nights without sleep can prevent us from having positive thoughts, as well as impact our decision-making skills. Frustration becomes the mood of the day.
• You can’t eat enough carbs
If you find yourself inexplicably craving carbs, it’s a direct result of your body needing more sleep. What’s happening is that your need for sleep causes the body to reduce its production of leptin, a hormone that suppresses your appetite. At the same time your levels of ghrelin, which makes you hungry, increase. No wonder why you can’t stop thinking about that Egg McMuffin or Bacon, Egg and Cheese Bagel. It’s a sure sign that you are sleep deprived.
• You’re experiencing lapses without even knowing it’s happening
A lapse is a moment in which your brain takes a nap without you realizing that it’s happening. Also called microsleeps, they can be extremely dangerous when they happen to people who are behind the wheel of a vehicle, and when you’re at work it means that you may have missed out on something important. It might even happen to you in the middle of a meeting or conference call, and when it does and you get caught it can have profound negative consequences for your career. The lapses may be as short as half a second or much longer than that. If you want to test yourself to see whether you’re that sleep deprived, take five minutes and go sit in a dark, quiet area while holding a pencil. Do nothing but focus on relaxing and breathing and see if you drop the pencil. If you do, you have likely experienced a microsleep.
• At work you find yourself in constant, jittery motion
If you are finding that you’re constantly tapping your feet or clicking your pen, there’s a very good chance that it’s more than an annoying habit or tic – it is likely your brain’s way of trying to keep your body from falling asleep according to Hans P.A. Van Dongen, a PhD and assistant director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University. Of course, it could also be a result of your having had way too much caffeine, which in and of itself is often a sign that you’re trying to make up for your lack of sleep. Sleep and nutrition experts say that you shouldn’t have more than 500 and 600 mg of caffeine per day, and that’s the equivalent of roughly four cups.
• You’re wide awake when it’s time for bed
So you’ve been thinking all day about being able to crawl between the covers at night and get a good night’s sleep, but when 9:30 rolls around you find yourself wide awake and not the least bit sleepy. According to Dr. Rafael Pelayo, a sleep specialist at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral scientist, what is happening is that your brain is pushing you to make it to the end of the day, and that burst can end up working against you. The more normal you feel when bed time rolls around, the more likely it is that you will go back on your promises to yourself about getting to sleep early and end up staying up just a bit longer, repeating the process and putting yourself into a state of serious sleep deprivation. Remember that it’s far easier to make yourself fall asleep when you’re not tired than to wake up in the morning when you’re absolutely exhausted, and force yourself into bed.