In the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, we tend to undervalue sleep and its various vital roles in our health and wellbeing. Everyone knows that a full night’s sleep leaves you feeling rested and rejuvenated. However, there’s more to lack of sleep than simply feeling tired. Sleep is one of the fundamental pillars upon which our health and productivity rests. Sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) appear to be on the rise, although there’s some speculation as to whether this is because of a decline in the general quality of sleep, or the increased frequency and quality of research conducted.
Considering the high-stress, fast-paced lifestyles that many of us lead, it’s not hard to believe that sleep disorders are becoming more prevalent. Why Is Sleep So Important?
● Memory: Getting sufficient rest throughout the night is vital for us to be able to learn and form memories. When we sleep for 7-8 hours per night, our brains are more able to focus, learn, and retain memories for later recollection. It doesn’t matter how much studying or research you do if your brain is not prepared to retain that information.
● Mood: Sleep plays an integral role in stabilizing our mood and keeping mental health disorders like anxiety and depression at bay. Studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to a noticeable increase in negative emotions such as irritability, anger, and sadness. Similarly, it chips away at positive aspects of your mood like patience, empathy, and tenacity.
● Heart health: During sleep, your body goes into a state of deep relaxation which causes your blood pressure to drop. This gives your blood vessels and heart a chance to rest and recuperate from the stress of the day. The longer you go without sleep, the higher your blood pressure becomes, which increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
● General immunity: Your body uses far less energy during sleep. This allows your body to divert energy into strengthening your immune system instead. Our bodies have also evolved wherein it uses our periods of rest to facilitate inflammation within the body, which is a necessary part of our healing process. Just like how our brains learn and adapt better with adequate sleep, our immune system learns to recognize and eliminate pathogens more effectively when we are well-rested.
● Blood sugar control: When you are in your deepest state of sleep, your blood glucose levels drop significantly. This gives your system a break from the need to process sugars in the blood and helps prevent insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.
The Most Common Sleep Disorders
Many folks chalk up poor sleep quality or feeling tired to simply working too hard, burning the candle at both ends, or various lifestyle factors. However, it turns out that you may be suffering from one of these common disorders:
Insomnia is the world’s most common sleep disorder. It’s characterized by having trouble falling asleep, or the general poor quality of sleep. There are two primary areas wherein people struggle with insomnia: sleep onset and sleep maintenance. Sleep onset refers to the period between getting into bed and falling asleep, while sleep maintenance refers to your ability to remain asleep.
Trouble with sleep onset may stem from high stress levels, mood disorders, or a disruption in your circadian rhythm brought on by an irregular work schedule or jet lag.
Issues pertaining to sleep maintenance often relate to substances that we consume throughout the day, such as caffeine. Other sleep disorders like OSA and restless leg syndrome may also negatively affect sleep maintenance.
Sudden changes in your behavior or internal environment can induce periods of insomnia. For instance, certain mood-altering medications or diet pills can lead to brief bouts of sleeplessness that eventually fade as your body becomes used to the new medication.
Poor physical health is a known culprit behind both chronic and short-term insomnia. The physical pain associated with certain conditions and injuries can easily keep you awake during the night or make it difficult to fall asleep. Conditions that cause you to urinate frequently throughout the night such as an enlarged prostate or pregnancy can also be disruptive to regular sleep patterns.
The best way to avoid insomnia is to take healthy preventative measures within your lifestyle. These can include:
● A healthy diet
● Regular exercise
● Reducing the consumption of caffeine, especially later in the day
● Eating dinner earlier in the evening
● Avoiding naps during the daytime
● Avoiding the overuse of screens before bed
● Restricting the use of your bedroom to sleep and relaxation only.
When you work or study in your bedroom, your brain begins to associate the area with focus and wakefulness. Doctors can prescribe sleeping pills to help you overcome insomnia, though this is a short-term solution only.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, the symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS) include an uncontrollable urge to move your legs at night. It can be extremely disruptive to both sleep onset and sleep maintenance.
RLS has several possible causes, including chronic disease, iron deficiency, certain medications, pregnancy, and stimulants like caffeine.
Because the causes of RLS are so diverse, it is wise to consult your doctor to find the appropriate treatment. Hot baths, leg massages, and healthy lifestyle choices can serve as preventative measures to RLS. In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe medication to help you deal with the symptoms.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
OSA occurs when the muscles in your throat relax to the point where it obstructs your windpipe while sleeping. Symptoms of OSA often include snoring, decreased libido, a dry mouth in the morning, and waking up in the middle of the night due to choking or lack of oxygen.
OSA is a potentially dangerous disorder that can have highly detrimental effects on your sleep and general quality of life. If you experience symptoms that point towards OSA, you need to consult a doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment options for OSA include healthy lifestyle changes and avoiding sleeping on your back. In more serious cases, you may have to undergo surgery or use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which provides enough consistent airflow to keep your throat muscles from collapsing.
Get Enough Sleep or Get Help
Numerous sleep studies illustrate how different factors affect our quality of sleep and the influence sleep has on our daily lives. The bottom line is that if you’re not getting enough sleep, you need to address why and get to the root of the problem.
While everyone’s idea of enough sleep may differ based on their individual needs, feeling tired all the time is never healthy–mentally or physically. If this sounds familiar, take action! We all deserve to feel refreshed when we lift our heads off the pillow.