In Part 1 of this series it was established that getting a good night's sleep is imperative to health, happiness and personal safety, as well as academic and professional success. Part 2 of this 3-part series details why you might not be getting enough sleep, and how to find out the amount of sleep you need on an individual basis.

What Causes Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation can be caused by a number of factors, both biological and environmental. Individuals who suffer from a lack of sleep might report any of the following causes, either as lone factors or in combination with other causes:

Forced wakefulness
Cramming for exams, working late on a project, staying up late to watch television, reading in bed, or a hectic schedule can cause you put off sleeping as long as possible.

Diet and medication
A poor diet can lead to sleeplessness, as can eating right before bed. High fat meals are likely to cause disruptive sleep, even when it's just dinner alone. Certain medications can also disrupt your sleep habits, as can over-the-counter supplements and caffeine.

External stimuli
If you have a partner who snores, live close to a busy intersection, or leave the television on while you sleep, such external stimuli can keep you awake or otherwise result in poor sleep quality by preventing you from entering the deepest stages of sleep.

Lack of exercise
Exercise keeps you in shape and burns a lot of energy, which can help you fall asleep at night. However, be careful about exercising right before bed; doing so can increase your body temperature and stimulate your heart and and muscles, making it difficult to fall asleep.

Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety can keep you awake at night by causing you to worry. When your body responds to stress, it forces you to be alert so you can deal with the stressor. This might be a result of the evolutionary fight-or-flight internal system; if our early ancestors knew a saber tooth tiger was nearby, they needed to be able to stay awake to defend themselves. We might not have to worry about man-eating cats; but big exams, professional and academic deadlines, and life's big decisions can serve as catalysts for the same response.

Mental health issues
Mental health issues like depression, seasonal affective disorder, and other sleep-specific disorders often deprive people of much-needed rest.

Those who suffer from depression know that one symptom is insomnia. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is a specific depression brought on by seasonal changes, climates, and the absence of natural sunlight. Most SAD cases are associated with winter, but some people suffer from summer SAD. Take the Circadian Rhythm Test to see if you might suffer from SAD.

Insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and other sleep-specific disorders can prevent you from falling asleep or otherwise cause poor sleep quality. Imbalanced production of melatonin can also result in an erratic circadian rhythm, which controls sleep and wakefulness.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

Experts generally recommend that adults get 8 hours of sleep per night. That guideline is not static, however, as different individuals can have different sleep requirements. Most adults need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep requirements are determined by several factors:

• age
• personal circadian rhythm
• lifestyle/activity level
• pregnancy
• previous sleep deprivation
• conditions or diseases

To determine how much sleep you need, try going to bed at the same time each night for a week. Do not set an alarm – simply sleep until you wake up feeling refreshed. Measure the amount of time you spend sleeping, and you'll know how much sleep you need.


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