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SLEEP DISTURBANCES: How Well Do You Really Sleep?

Updated on October 27, 2011

Not sleeping?

It's 3 AM and you're awake. But are you wide-awake and refreshed after a good night's sleep? Chances are that if you didn't wake to use the washroom, there is another reason for your insomnia.

When the reason for sleeplessness is insomnia, there are lifestyle changes that often work; relying on pharmaceutical approaches to insomnia often adds fuel to the fire.

Some of those lifestyle changes include, but aren’t limited to:

Establish a bedtime routine, possibly that of going to bed at the same time each night

Keep approximately the same sleep schedule every night and as tempting as it is to sleep in on weekends, don’t.

Exercise should be completed 4 hours before sleep because of its stimulant effect. Ideally, exercise should be done in the early morning, afternoon or right after work.

Drink herbal tea in the evening, rather than caffeinated beverages; some feel that warm milk is beneficial

Do relaxation exercises, visual imagery or listen to relaxing music before bed

Some people have found that over-the-counter valerian or melatonin are helpful, but consult your doctor before taking these

Alcohol, though having a sedative effect should be eliminated. It keeps you in a light sleep for a longer period of time so that you don’t enter REM sleep for some time.

The bedroom should be quiet, cool and used only for sleep or sex. If you’re still awake after trying all of these measures, don’t fret, rather get up

Sleep Disorders

Nearly 40 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. There are nearly 70 of them, so I’ll limit my discussion to the most frequent 4:

Insomnia, the sleep disorder most heard of, is when a patient has difficulty falling to sleep and then once asleep, the same patient has difficulty staying asleep.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA is a major sleep disorder affecting more than 18 million Americans. The key word is ‘apnea’ meaning that during sleep, a patient stops breathing. This is often caused when excess weight places extra pressure on muscles surrounding the airway causing a temporary blockage.

Often, the first symptom of OSA may be the patient’s complaint of being tired. Why? Each episode of apnea (when the patient stops breathing) interrupts the normal sleep cycle, so that even if he sleeps for 9 hours the amount of restful sleep is often between 4 and 5 hours, far below what is needed.

OSA is also related to more serious consequences such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. How does OSA result in type II diabetes? In addition to obesity and too little exercise, it has also been found that when people received less than five hours of sleep every night, their glucose metabolism was altered: diabetes. Evidence is rapidly mounting that chronic sleep deprivation may also increase the risk of developing obesity , too. 

Frequently, OSA is treated by Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). CPAP requires that a patient wear a mask when he sleeps. A home CPAP machine delivers pressure to the airway, thereby keeping it open, preventing the collapse that leads to episodes of apnea.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a movement disorder in which the patient’s nervous system sends signals to move limbs, usually the lower ones. There is sometimes numbness or tingling in the limbs and the only way to end this discomfort is to walk and move the legs. Oftentimes this happens when limbs are confined to a small space or a sufferer kicks his/her legs during sleep, disturbing partners.

Narcolepsy The patient with narcolepsy has a nervous system that is unable to manage sleep/wake cycles, resulting in the need for frequent naps. When sufferers sleep, they often fall quickly and without warning into a deep sleep. Falling into this deep sleep results in their not reaping the benefits of the other sleep stages. Narcolepsy is not curable but it is treatable.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is more than downtime for the brain. Many people erroneously think that sleep is simply time when they don’t have to work.This time is necessary for the body to regenerate. Initially during sleep, muscle activity and body temperature decrease. There is general cellular repair done when we sleep (for example, extra free radicals which cause inflammation) are fought by the body.

Sleep benefits the nervous system. During the daytime, our bodies are too busy to renew and rejuvenate the nervous system. But during sleep, the body has the opportunity to rid itself of waste and grow new nerve cells in the brain.

If there is chronic sleep deprivation, nervous system cells don’t receive adequate rest which compromises repair of nervous system cells. These non-repaired cells can then malfunction, leading to lowered reaction time while driving. Lowered reaction time and poor judgement often lead to falling asleep at the wheel.

Growth hormone, especially needed for child development, is released by the pituitary gland when we sleep so children and muscles grow. Also, protein is released during sleep, repairing cells, hence the phrase, “beauty sleep!”

The immune system is also affected by sleep deprivation and more inflammatory cells are found. There’s also evidence that cardiac illness can result, diabetes is exacerbated and so is arthritis. Symptoms of fibromyalgia are made worse with decreased sleep.

You can never forget psychological effects of the physical. One's psyche is influenced by not having enough sleep, also. In the absence of sleep can be weight gain and obesity that often do draw negative attention. In addition, that weight gain can result in shortness of breath often requiring oxygen, another symptom that not everything is normal with a person with shortness of breath.


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    • sharewhatuknow profile image

      sharewhatuknow 5 years ago from Western Washington

      Hi teamrn, so nice to meet you, and this is a great hub. For the last couple of years, I just can't get enough sleep, it seems. I go to bed at 10 or 11 pm, and waking up 8 or 9 hours later, I still feel tired, a lot of the time. It's only after drinking about 2-3 cups of regular coffee that I feel I can cope with the day ahead.

      I am beginning to wonder if I may have sleep apnea.

      Voted your hub up and useful.