Our bodies give us plenty of signals when we’re tired, but some of us are so used to being sleep deprived that we remain oblivious to how impaired we really are. Sleep debt isn’t something you can pay off in a weekend, researchers say—it can take weeks of building up restorative sleep habits. In the meantime, here are some signs you might be sleep deprived, and temporary fixes while you get your sleep schedule back on track.
1. You’re flummoxed by even simple decisions
You’re up late one night booking your next vacation, and even though you know the dates and destination, you’re overwhelmed by minor details. Should you get a refundable ticket? Window or aisle seat? Rent a car now or later? When you’re tired, you’re less able to distinguish between important and irrelevant information, such as your seat assignment, according to Sean Drummond, Ph.D., a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego. The result: Even the simplest decision takes on exaggerated importance.
Tired people also take riskier gambles to maximize results (Maybe if I wait until the last minute, the ticket price will go down) and have trouble adjusting to changing circumstances (like firming up an itinerary if flying from an unfamiliar airport).
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2. You’ve been eating all day, and you’re still hungry!
Studies show that chronic sleep loss can disrupt blood sugar levels and cause the body to produce less leptin, a hormone that curbs appetite, and more ghrelin, leptin’s hunger-stimulating counterpart. Because of these physiological changes, you may be more likely to overeat when you skimp on sleep—and the food you pick probably won’t be either nutritious or a lasting source of energy. Tired people tend to be particularly drawn to sugars and other simple carbohydrates, probably because the body is looking for a quick pick-me-up, says Lisa Shives, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep deprivation also tends to erode self-control, making you more likely to choose a brownie over carrot sticks.
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