WBM Health: Losing Sleep

BY M.K. Barnes

You are getting sleepy The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that we all get seven to eight hours of sleep each night but most of us only get a drop more than six hours and many of us get less than that.

Your eyes are closing One out of four Americans (according to the NSF) takes over-the-counter medications for their sleeping disorders instead of seeking medical treatment.

And yet youre still awake Average annual health insurance premiums for someone suffering from sleep apnea can be more than 30 percent higher than those of someone not suffering from sleep apnea even if the suffering sleeper is otherwise healthy. (American Sleep Apnea Association)

Despite all of that sleeping disorders remain an often-overlooked illness in America.

Most people dont understand the severity of sleep deprivation. According to local physicians insufficient sleep can result in both mental and physical health problems and when paired with an inadequate diet and lack of exercise can possibly lead to premature death.

“Sleep is as important as air and water. You can go only minutes without air and maybe a couple days without water but its really only a matter of several days without sleep. The documented record is 11 days without sleep ” says Dr. Alfred DeMaria of Wilmington Health Associates.

There is a difference between sleeplessness or insomnia sleepiness and fatigue. All of these sleeping disorders can greatly impact your everyday life but its important to have a physician determine which one you have in order to treat it correctly.

Sleeplessness and insomnia are defined as states in which one is unable to sleep and which are often accompanied by functional impairment when awake. But whereas sleeplessness is usually linked with emotional or mental stress insomnia is not usually related to physical ailments although of course there are exceptions. Insomnia is often characterized by persistent difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep despite the opportunity.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services in 2007 approximately 64 million Americans regularly suffered from insomnia which is 1.4 times more common in women than in men.

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) is defined as persistent sleepiness resulting in a general lack of energy even after an apparently adequate night-time sleep. EDS is a symptom of one of two forms of the sleep disorder hypersomnia the other being prolonged nighttime sleep. Some with EDS including those with narcolepsy are compelled to nap repeatedly during the day fighting off stronger and stronger urges to sleep during inappropriate times such as while driving working eating or in the middle of conversations. As the compulsion to sleep intensifies the ability to competently complete tasks sharply diminishes often mimicking the appearance of intoxication.

“Sleepiness is the propensity to fall asleep if in a quiet setting. Fatigue is more just a lack of energy ” says Dr. Mark Pithan a neurologist with Wilmington Health Associates. Fatigue is the temporary inability to respond to a situation or perform a function because of over-activity paired with a general feeling of discomfort or irritability.

People who are constantly complaining of fatigue may also have a medical neurological or psychiatric disorder. Although these occurrences are rare fatigue sometimes leads doctors to the early detection of certain abnormalities such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinsons disease. Fatigue which frequently changes sleeping patterns is also a common factor in mild and severe depression and mood disorders. Yet in most cases fatigue is triggered by common factors such as an inadequate amount of exercise poor eating habits or nicotine and alcohol use. If you believe your fatigue is triggered by these lifestyle choices its easy to amend with a few lifestyle changes.

First learn to listen to your body. If you are feeling tired or under the weather dont push yourself beyond your limits. If you do you will put a strain on your immune system making you more susceptible to future illnesses. Second begin a regular exercise regimen. Besides increasing your cardiovascular and muscular strength regular exercise will help ease fatigue and allow your body to better handle the strain of everyday life. Finally eat a balanced diet that includes at least three meals a day to ensure that you get an adequate number of vitamins and minerals so your body can function properly.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke if you arent suffering from sleeplessness insomnia sleepiness or fatigue but are still experiencing a lack of restful sleep you may be one of the 40 million people in the United States who suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders or one of the additional 20 million who experience occasional sleep problems.

Of the 70 different sleep disorders that doctors are currently treating insomnia remains the most common. Although many people believe that insomnia is characterized solely by being unable to sleep the actual results vary from person to person. Insomnia is usually classified as one of three types: transient (where symptoms typically only last a single night to a few weeks) intermittent (where you get transient symptoms every few months) and chronic (when your symptoms occur on most nights and last for longer than a month).

Certain predetermined factors such as gender advanced age and a history of depression can heighten your risk for insomnia but many factors like those of patients with fatigue can be reduced by lifestyle changes.

“One big factor is genetics. If you have a family member that has trouble sleeping youre more likely to have problems sleeping ” says Dr. De Maria. “Even things like anxiety and depression affect our sleep as do some of our habits the things we eat drink and our activities. If you read a scary book or watch an upsetting movie before bed it can impact your sleep.”

Since the natural aspects of falling asleep and waking up are controlled by numerous chemical and blood changes ingesting excessive amounts of caffeine nicotine or alcohol throughout the day and especially right before you attempt to sleep will prevent your body from naturally becoming tired and often result in restless or failed sleep.

“Insomnia is more common in people with depression as well as people with psychiatric diseases. Shift work can also trigger it teenagers or people in their 20s who stay up late and then sleep during the day can alter the timing of their sleep cycle. Another thing that people dont realize is that caffeine and alcohol can affect both the quality and the quantity of their sleep ” Dr. Brian Legere of Coastal Pulmonary Medicine says.

However the leading cause of transient insomnia is often the patients own fear of being unable to sleep which causes them anxiety and prevents them from being able to rest. Continuing these behaviors may prolong milder cases of insomnia and be responsible for their existence in the first place.

Chronic insomnia is much more complex and usually requires both physical and psychiatric screenings to determine if there are any underlying problems which have provoked its onset. Kidney disease heart failure Parkinsons disease depression and hyperthyroidism have all been found to cause chronic insomnia. After identifying these problems doctors are able to correctly treat insomnia with both pharmacological and behavior modification techniques.

Many of the reconditioning treatments that doctors use involve re-associating the patients bed solely with sleeping rather than reading watching television or talking on the telephone. “Patients need to make sure that they have a good quiet dark place to sleep. Its called sleep hygiene ” says Dr. Pithan.

In addition to a comfortable sleeping environment patients are asked only to go sleep when tired roughly around the same time each night (avoiding naps throughout the day) and to remove themselves from their bedroom if they are unable to fall asleep within ten minutes. By leaving the room and focusing on another activity such as getting a drink of water or sitting in the living room for a few minutes the patient is able to re-train their brain to associate their bed as a tool for sleeping rather than a place for social activities.

“Sleep patterns once you establish them over a long period of time are very hard to break. And there are also medical problems that contribute to these. People who have heart problems asthma psychiatric problems and older people with health conditions are often affected ” says Dr. De Maria.

In this day and age where people are expected to be more caffeinated and alert than ever society has put a good nights sleep on the back burner. Yet with its direct inarguable connection to our physical and mental health and well being we must be more focused than ever about catching our ZZZs.