For my first post, I talked about Obstructive Sleep Apnea and how it can affect your sleep. In today’s long-overdue post, I’ll comment on sleep itself, sharing why it’s important and offering some sleep hygiene tips. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Why We Sleep
We need sleep so our bodies can carry out all of the functions that don’t take place during our periods of wakefulness – hormonal balancing, cellular repair – all of the “recharging” needed to prepare us to face the next day. New neural pathways form in the brain allowing us to maintain, or improve, our:
- ability to problem solve,
- attentiveness, and
- emotional control.
It does this by balancing and controlling various hormones within our bodies. For example, it helps our bodies to repair our heart and blood vessels by triggering the hormones needed to complete these tasks. It also plays a role in our reaction to insulin and the control of blood sugars, again by effecting needed hormonal balances.
The hormones, ghrelin and leptin – which monitor our feelings of hunger or fullness – are adjusted helping us to maintain our best body weight. Sleep deficiency will cause your ghrelin level to increase and your leptin level to decrease resulting in increased hunger, over-eating, and the risk of obesity.
Sleep Deprivation and Sleep Deficiency
Sleep deprivation (deprivation) or sleep deficiency (deficiency) (which is deprivation on steroids), has an effect on all of these events that occur during sleep. The former means that you’re not getting enough while the latter means that, and much more:
- what you do get is poor, not just short;
- you may not get enough of the necessary types (REM or non-REM sleep);
- they may be cycling in an insufficient ratio for your needs.
Additionally, deficiency is typically a sign that you have a disorder, like obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep deficiency is the more serious condition.
Many of the effects of deprivation and deficiency are well-documented. They include:
- irritability and mood swings,
- low motivation,
- slowed reaction time,
- poor concentration and memory,
- reduced creativity,
- reduced ability to problem solve,
- and headaches.
In addition, deficiency alters your brain which increases the fostering of these effects.
More severe effects include micro sleeping – periods of brief sleep when you would normally be awake – risk-taking, depression and suicide. Episodes of micro sleeping typically occur without the individual being aware of them – consider the danger this may pose while driving or operating heavy machinery.
There are essentially two ways for you to investigate suspected issues before visiting your doctor for a diagnosis.
Firstly, listen to comments from your spouse or companion, your family, your friends and your co-workers to learn if they’ve noticed behaviours consistent with poor sleep.
Secondly, maintain a daily sleep diary (a smartwatch can help with this). Record the date, the time you went to bed and the time you woke up, the amount of sleep you experienced, your alertness, your mood, your sleepiness and how rested you feel. You may also want to consider other elements like alcohol consumption, bedtime, stress levels, the time of your last coffee, etc.
Together, these anecdotal tools may help you, and your doctor, investigate what might be a very real danger to you. Your input will help your doctor assess whether or not a sleep study is called for. That study may mean using medical equipment, like a CPAP machine, to improve your sleep.
Simple Sleep Hygiene
You can, and should, take steps to improve your sleep experience. Rather than foregoing it to get something done, make it an equal priority. Maintain a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. Schedule a period of quiet time before your bedtime to allow you to wind down in preparation for it. Use this quiet time to reduce stimulation by limiting the influence of artificial light, quieting background music and making like adjustments. Consider a warm bath or other relaxation technique to help you wind down before bed.
Whatever you do, use the diary to monitor the effectiveness of your actions and develop a routine that works for you.
Remember, your sleep is an essential tool in maintaining your mental and physical health. Give it the attention it deserves and enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Image by Lolame from Pixabay