In my last post, I introduced you to OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) and suggested that this sleep disorder played a role in the effect that MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) had upon my body and mind. I also described the physical factors behind the disorder and outlined the resulting dangers. However, I didn’t explore the importance of sleep and what disrupting it may mean. That’s what this post is about.
We all know, through anecdotal references, that it’s important to get enough sleep and that too little sleep is dangerous. Yet I suspect that most of us know no more than this.
During sleep, new neural pathways form in the brain allowing us to maintain, or improve, our creativity, our ability to problem-solve, our memory, our attentiveness and our emotional control. Sleep 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. The hormones, ghrelin and leptin – which monitor our feelings of hunger or fullness – are balanced during sleep helping us to maintain our body weight. Essentially, and obviously, during sleep, our bodies carry out all of the functions that do not take place during our periods of wakefulness – hormonal balancing, cellular repair, all of the “recharging” needed to prepare us to face the next day.
Equally as obvious, sleep deprivation or sleep deficiency (which is sleep deprivation+), has an effect on all of these events that occur during sleep. For example, sleep deficiency will cause your ghrelin level to increase and your leptin level to decrease resulting in increased hunger, over-eating, and the risk obesity.
Poor sleep might result in sleep deprivation or sleep deficiency. The former means that you are not getting enough sleep while the latter means that, and more: that the sleep you do get is poor, not just short; that you may not get enough of the necessary types of sleep (REM or non-REM sleep); that these types of sleep may be cycling in an insufficient ratio for your needs. Additionally, sleep deficiency is typically a sign of the presence of a sleep disorder, like obstructive sleep apnea. Consequently, sleep deficiency is the most serious condition.
Many of the effects of sleep 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, hallucinations, confusion, and headaches. But one effect of sleep deficiency I did not know about is that parts of your brain are altered to foster the listed effects.
More severe effects include microsleeping – periods of brief sleep when you would normally be awake – risk-taking, depression and suicide. Episodes of microsleeping 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 sleep deficiency 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 have noticed actions consistent with sleep deficiency. Secondly, maintain a daily sleep diary. Record the date, 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, bed time, 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 doctor may prescribe a sleep study and any medical equipment (a CPAP machine or the like) the sleep study reveals may prove effective. However you can, and should, take steps to improve your sleep experience. Rather than foregoing sleep to get something done, make sleep 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 sleep. Use this quiet time to reduce stimulation by limiting the influence of artificial light, quieting background music and like adjustments. Consider a warm bath or other relaxation technique to help you wind down before bed. Whatever you do, use the sleep 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.
What tools do you use to improve your sleep? Please share them through your comments.