Physician’s Preference brings you an article in a series discussing common health concerns. This week we focus on sleep deprivation.
Pain, illness, drugs, age, one’s sleeping environment, known sleep disorders, and stress are the top culprits that contribute to sleep deprivation. Often they are divided into four categories: lifestyle, health complications, medical side effects and clinical disorders. Sleep is an imperative, natural restorative state of inactivity that helps rejuvenate the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. Marked by regular sleeping and waking cycles, sleep is controlled by humans’ internal circadian clock. This clock is a timekeeping, enzyme-controlling device that works with other hormones to inhibit wakeful bodily processes effectively inducing sleep and normal sleep cycles.
Sleepiness is triggered as the circadian element releases the hormone melatonin
and the core body temperature begins to drop. For satisfactory sleep to occur, the need for sleep must be balanced with the circadian element. In other words, paying attention to your body’s rhythm and sleep needs is imperative as there are good sleep patterns and bad ones (and meaningful and less meaningful sleep episodes); but it is easy to remember because our bodies let us know! The ideal time to go to bed to get the best sleep is when you begin to feel sleepy. For many people, this is much easier said than done.
Not getting enough sleep manifests itself in mental, emotional and physical fatigue. We all know what it is like to lose zip and feel physically drained, but oftentimes we are unaware of how apparent mental and emotional fatigue is to others. Typical side effects include depression, irritability, slower reaction times, slurred speech and tremors—all very noticeable behaviors to those around you!
Sleep deprivation can impair our ability to think clearly, make decisions, handle stress, and problem solve effectively. People often have a harder time concentrating and memory becomes impaired as the body works harder and harder to counteract the effects of sleep deprivation. Studies have shown one of the most disturbing side effects of lack of sleep is that people begin to have hallucinations.
Researches have found that a lack of sleep can affect our physical well being by more than doubling the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, automobile injury, and illness due to an impaired immune system. Studies have shown a significant decrease in white blood cell counts after just 24 hours of wakefulness. Long-term effects include high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, psychiatric problems, mental impairment, and overall poor quality of life. There is an increased mortality risk for those reporting less than either six or seven hours per night, and inadequate sleep has a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure and heart disease.
There are several aspects considered when evaluating the optimal amount of sleep for humans. Unfortunately it is not as easy as saying, “Make sure to sleep for 7 to 9 hours a night!” Unless one is following their natural circadian rhythm, that is falling asleep and waking at optimal and regular times daily, the sleep is considered inadequate. There is no such thing as ‘catching up’ on sleep! Sleep is meaningful if there is a maximum level of melatonin in the system as well as a minimum core body temperature that occurs after the mid-point of the sleep episode and before waking. This only occurs when someone’s sleep is consistent, uninterrupted, and allows each snippet of the regular 90 minute sleep cycle to complete before waking. A good rule to remember when juggling a schedule that will require you to fall asleep or wake at different times than you are accustomed, is to simply calculate your sleep in multiples of 90 and avoid waking mid-cycle.
Children need more sleep per day to develop and function properly. Ideal hours of sleep per day steadily decrease as a human gets older, and by 5 to 12 years of age one should get 9 to 11 hours per night. Adults (including the elderly) on average should get 7 to 8 hours of meaningful sleep, while women who are pregnant need a minimum of 8 meaningful hours.
Experts are pushing for greater awareness of sleep deprivation and suggest that it be recognized with the same seriousness that has been associated with the societal impact of alcohol. We all know the dangers of driving while feeling sleepy, but to know that we can experience detriment of equal measures due to the long-term effects of lack of sleep can be eye opening. There is a wealth of knowledge regarding treatment options for sleep deprivation as many of the health concerns discussed here can be avoided. To obtain the best sleep habits to optimize your sleep effectiveness, consult with your physician to determine if you are suffering from more serious medical conditions.
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