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Some much needed zzz’s

It’s a new day, but there’s the same problem. The alarm clock rings, and it can be heard throughout the house, but you ignore it. You’ve overslept again, this time missing an exam.

If it’s happened once, the only concern is getting a zero on the test. But if this has become a pattern during the past few months, then this concerns could be more serious.

Sleep deprivation usually comes in the form of insomnia. People have trouble falling asleep and, in other cases, they struggle to wake up early.

But in order to understand the reason for this, the first thing to be examined are personality patterns, said Dale Hicks, associate director for the USF Counseling Center.

“Sleep deprivation has different psychological factors,” Hicks said.

There are two factors that often affect those who have sleep deprivation: chronic anxiety or depression. Hicks said a person only has to have one of these patterns for sleep deprivation to occur.

Those with chronic anxiety have a very active central nervous system and worry more than usual. Hicks said this affects sleep because the person’s brain is not able to enter relaxation mode.

The second factor, depression, doesn’t usually affect a person’s ability to fall asleep, however, if sleep is interrupted, one will have difficulty falling back asleep, Hicks said.

“If someone loses a couple minutes of sleep, it’s not all that unnatural,” Hicks said. “One of the simplest circumstances (that affects sleep) is a frequent thing that happens in anyone’s life that creates tension and stress. It’s not unnatural to lose sleep over it unless it becomes a daily circumstance and more than usual.”

Carl E. Hunt, director for the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, said he noticed that lifestyles and behavioral decisions cause sleep deprivation, as well.

Hunt said the pressures people face with work and family requirements lead to a lack of time spent at home resting. In addition, Hunt said there are more entertainment opportunities in the evening that inhibit the desire to sleep, as well.

“There are all these things that seem to be more interesting than getting to bed on time,” Hunt said.

Hunt added that it is not always daily situations of stress that may cause a person to have sleep deprivation. Experiencing a traumatic event, Hunt said, takes a toll on the mind that can disrupt sleep.

“I think post-traumatic stress disorder, especially post-9/11 is one additional factor that could contribute to impairment of sleep,” Hunt said.

Hunt, who reviews research materials to process grant funds, said one of the most recent studies he examined shows that sleep deprivation could be a contribution to diabetes.

“In the metabolic area, there is very intriguing research data that is done in healthy young adults that shows sleep restriction actually stimulates appetite,” Hunt said. “They eat less healthy, high-fat and high-salt foods that tend to disturb the metabolism and mimics the diabetes condition. People who are chronically sleep deprived handle glucose intake differently.”

Sleep deprivation can also have the same effects someone experiences after consuming alcohol.

According to the British Medical Association, getting less than six hours of sleep a night affects coordination and reaction time. The study on sleep deprivation, which was published in the British Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, showed that people who drove after being awake for at least 17 hours performed worse than someone with a .05 percent blood alcohol level.

Hicks said this is the time when a lack of sleep becomes life threatening.

“If you’re on the road for instance, it’s probably more frequent to have accidents if they fall asleep at the wheel,” Hicks said.

Before being treated for sleep deprivation, Hicks said that it would have to be diagnosed through a medical examination whether the person has been consistently experiencing irregular sleeping patterns.

Hicks said medicine could be taken to help treat sleep deprivation, but it isn’t always the best solution.

“It doesn’t really cure anything,” Hicks said. “It can be habit forming if someone starts to depend on it.”

But before even one consults a physician, Hunt said the first thing that is needed is awareness of the need for sleep.

“We all know nutrition and exercise are important but sleep is equally important,” Hunt said. “With that awareness, people need to evaluate their lifestyle, behavior and re-evaluate to the extent that there are modifications in the schedule that are effective. And the time spent in bed is going to be more efficient.”

To find out more information concerning sleep deprivation contact the Counseling Center at 974-9403.

Contact Grace Agostinat