June 25, 2009
Are you getting enough rest? Find out about sleep disorders and how to drift off each night.
Do you realize that the average person spends more than one-third of their lifetime asleep?
There is a pre-conceived notion of how many hours of sleep keeps us alert during the day; this may be as little as 4 or as many as 10 hours each night. Healthy sleep is defined as the quality and quantity required for you to maintain optimal alertness and perform at your peak each day. When you get less than an adequate number of hours of sleep, your judgment is impaired, you become cranky, miserable, depressed and your performance suffers. It is ideal for most people to sleep between six and eight hours each night.
It's likely that most of us have been awakened by someone snoring. Both you and the suspect may suffer from chronic sleep deprivation and have a looming sleep-debt. Not only is this an annoyance, but it could be the sign of a sleep disorder.
More than 70 million people suffer from a sleep disorder. There are more than 80 different types of sleeping disorders that can rob us of a good night's sleep. Most sleep disorders are minor or related to short-term triggers like caffeine or stress, but some are more serious or even fatal.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in the US. Sleep apnea can be a side effect of growing older, gaining weight and losing muscle tone. With sleep apnea, muscle tone in our airway collapses like a straw might when you try to suck in that last little bit of milkshake. The collapse obstructs the airway and there's loss of oxygen flow to the organs; this can occur hundreds of times per night. People with untreated sleep apnea may awaken with headaches, dry mouth, and confusion. They often feel tired despite their hours in bed.
Insomnia is another common sleep disorder. It's difficult to treat because it can have a variety of causes and contributing factors. From stress and anxiety to pain and depression, the causes of insomnia are complex. As any true insomniac will tell you, getting a good night's sleep is often impossible.
Red, puffy eyes aren't the only consequence of lost sleep. Sleep deprivation also causes daytime sleepiness, fatigue and memory problems. When we don't get enough sleep over a period of time, our bodies begin to exhibit signs that mimic the effects of aging. Our metabolism is affected by the loss of sleep and that can lead to increased or worsened symptoms of age-related illnesses, such as hypertension, weight gain, diabetes and memory loss.
These effects can also be lessened over a short period of time by increasing the amount of sleep you get. Sleeping a few extra hours a night seems to repair the imbalance to the system and allow things to get back on track.
Remember, persistent trouble sleeping doesn't happen automatically as we age. Persistent excessive daytime sleepiness, regardless of the reason, is a warning sign that you are not getting enough rest. Consulting a physician or sleep specialist can be the first step toward discovering any underlying problem and get you back on the road to better sleep.
Barbara is the Director of the Sleep Disorders Center, Neurodiagnositcs and the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at University Hospital in Louisville, Ky. She earned her bachelors of business degree at Northwood University and her master’s of healthcare administration at Webster University.