It seems that sleeping would be the easiest, most comfortable act any living being could perform. But the truth is, even sleep is not without its complications. From insomnia to narcolepsy, people are having trouble catching those z’s, either altogether, or at the right time and right place. So what’s going on here? Do we just need to count more sheep than before?
Keeping your body energized with sleep is just as important as eating nutritious food. Sleep is a biological need, in that it is a necessity for a normal, functioning immune system and healthy brain function and motor skills. But sleep is also one of the most poorly understood functions of the human body, as it involves complicated brain processes that not even top-notch scientists can fully grasp. The brain does not go to sleep when the body does – it is engaged in lots of activity, activity that is often elusive to experts.
Surprisingly, about 13% of Americans suffer from a sleep disorder – and that doesn’t include the 20 million Americans who only occasionally have sleep problems. Another surprising number is the number of sleep disorders that exist: there are 70 in total. Fortunately, they are organized into three simple, “sleep problem” categories: not getting enough sleep, getting too much sleep, and sleeping enough, but not getting quality sleep.
If you’ve had a sleep disorder, it was most likely insomnia, in which you had trouble sleeping. Especially if you are a woman or an elderly person, insomnia might have plagued you during at least one point in your life. Perhaps it’s keeping you up at night right now, prompting you to read this article!
Considering how vital sleep is to a person’s health and development, it is curious that people neglect it as much as they do. College students frequently pull all-nighters to study for exams, workers wake up bright and early to take their kids to school and stay up late at the office. Thankfully, sleep disorders are not difficult to treat. The caveat here is that they must be diagnosed first and too often, people don’t take their sleep problems seriously.
So what are some examples of some common sleep disorders and what can you do to remedy them? Some problems, like insomnia, may be a direct cause of one’s behavior and environment. Simply cutting down on the caffeine you drink can make it all the more easier to fall asleep at night. As well, many medications, especially antidepressants, can disrupt your sleep patterns. And of course – drugs and alcohol have a very significant impact on the quality of your sleep.
However, beyond these factors, there are many complicated issues that could be going on in your brain and your body. In order to understand them, one must understand what sleep actually is. And there is not just one kind of sleep – there are five stages of sleep, stages that you should experience continually throughout the nighttime. You will spend most of your time in stage 2 and then during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage. Most people complete the cycle – stage 1 to stage 5 – in about an hour and a half. So those cat naps can be helpful, but you’re not getting a full dose of sleep in them! REM sleep is when you experience dreams and stage 4 sleep is when you are most likely to sleepwalk or talk in your sleep!
Now, let’s discuss three well-known sleep disorders. As mentioned before, insomnia is not a stranger to most people. While insomnia makes it hard for a person to fall asleep, one suffering from insomnia will still feel exhausted, and thus anxious, throughout the day. Insomnia adversely affects one’s day-to-day activities as a result. Insomnia is one of the easiest sleep disorders to treat; in most cases, it’s the result of diet or life stresses, which are in one’s control. In some cases, however, it can be a symptom of a disease. If the causes of insomnia are not easily removable by the person, sleeping pills can be prescribed. However, they should be taken with caution and only used to cure short-term insomnia, not long-term. They have addictive qualities.
Narcolepsy is one of the stranger sleep disorders out there. It is typically passed onto a person through genetics. Essentially, a narcoleptic enters REM sleep unexpectedly without ever experiencing the first stages of sleep. They can be “attacked” by sleep in any time and place – while driving, shopping at the mall, or giving a speech. They may fall asleep for just a minute or 30 minutes. A person usually learns they are narcoleptic between the ages of 15 and 30. It is often accompanied by other neurological problems and can be most problematic when a narcoleptic is enduring lots of physical or emotional stress (like pregnancy or a change of jobs). Narcoleptics often feel drowsy throughout the day. Medications (i.e. stimulants for the day and antidepressants for the night) can help alleviate the symptoms of narcolepsy, but there is no cure just yet.
Another sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea. When a person’s breathing is disrupted during sleep, their sleep patterns are also disrupted. If a person has too narrow of a nasal passage or they are obese, they are at an increased risk for sleep apnea. Other risks that go along with sleep apnea include heart disease and stroke. Treatment for sleep apnea may simply be weight loss. There are also facial masks a person can wear that will secure that their breathing is fine throughout the night. Some people suffer from sleep apnea because they have enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum and in these cases, surgery might be a good bet. However, there is one treatment that is certainly not the way to go – sleeping pills, as they will prevent a person from correcting their abnormal breathing patterns throughout the night.
There are basic steps you can take to ensure you get a good night’s rest. Get into a comfortable sleep routine; avoid ingesting caffeine and other substances like alcohol; don’t do anything too energetic (like exercise) before you hit the sack, as it will be difficult to wind down and fall asleep – instead do something relaxing like read or take a bubble bath; don’t keep your house too warm or cold; and finally, use the sun and the stars as your guide! Your body benefits when it can tune into the planet’s natural cycle of daylight and you’ll find it’s easy for you to fall asleep and wake up if you actually keep your blinds open! Also, make sure your bed is comfortable!
So, hopefully this has given you some insight into the complicated world of sleep so that you can ultimately get a good night’s rest.