By: Dr. Daniel Amen


In our hectic, 24-7 society, we could easily ask “what doesn’t cause sleep deprivation?” There are a seemingly endless number of reasons why millions of us are missing out on a good night’s sleep. Getting less than 6 hours of sleep has been associated with lower overall brain activity, which affects mood, focus, productivity, weight, health, and physical safety.

According to the 2009 Sleep in America Poll, Americans are averaging only 6 hours and 40 minutes of sleep each night, then squeeze in an average of 27 minutes of extra sleep on the weekends.
Even more disturbing, the percentage of people getting less than 6 hours of sleep has risen from 12% in 1998 to 20% in 2009 – while the percentage of Americans getting a good 8 hours a night has decreased from 35% in 1998 to 28% in 2009.

The numbers reveal that getting a good night’s sleep is becoming little more than an elusive dream for many Americans. Chronic sleep problems affect millions of us. Temporary sleep issues are even more common and will affect almost every one of us at some point in our lifetime.

Here are a few of the most common reasons for sleep deprivation:

  1. Medications: Many medications including asthma medications, antihistamines, cough medicines, anticonvulsants, and many others disturb sleep.
  2. Caffeine: Too much caffeine from coffee, tea, chocolate, or some herbal preparations — especially when consumed later in the day or at night — can disrupt sleep.
  3. Alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana: Although these compounds initially induce sleepiness for some people, they have the reverse effect as they wear off, which is why you may wake up several hours after you go to sleep.
  4. Restless Legs Syndrome: A nighttime jerking or pedaling motion of the legs that drives a person’s bed partner crazy (as well as the person who has it).
  5. Women’s issues: Pregnancy, PMS, menopause, and perimenopause cause fluctuations in hormone levels that can disrupt the sleep cycle.
  6. Chronic pain conditions.
  7. Untreated or undertreated psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, or anxiety.
  8. Alzheimer’s disease: Dementia patients “sundown” or rev up at night and wander.
  9. Chronic gastrointestinal problems, such as reflux.
  10. Men’s issues: Benign prostatic hypertrophy causes many trips to the bathroom at night, which interrupts slumber.
  11. Snoring: Snoring can wake you or your sleep mate, or everyone in the house if it is really loud.
  12. Sleep apnea: With this condition, you stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night, which robs you of restful sleep and leaves you feeling sluggish, inattentive, and forgetful throughout the day.
  13. Shift work: Nurses, firefighters, security personnel, customer service representatives, truck drivers, airline pilots, and many others toil by night and sleep by day. Or, at least, they try to sleep. Shift workers are especially vulnerable to irregular sleep patterns, which leads to excessive sleepiness, reduced productivity, irritability, and mood problems.
  14. Stressful events: The death of a loved one, divorce, a major deadline at work, or an upcoming test can cause temporary sleep loss.
  15. Jet lag: International travel across time zones wreaks havoc with sleep cycles.