Friday, January 14, 2011

How To Combat Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia

If you could remain awake for 72 hours, you would have a lot of work done, but at the end of that time, you would become irritable, unfocused, your reaction time would be slow, and your motivation and energy levels would fall.

If these reactions did not stop you to take a break and sleep, your body would by giving you fever to keep you in bed for a few days. This is the extent sleep is very important to the health and proper functioning of your body that it will force you to sleep, if you didn't do so willingly .

Not getting enough sleep occurs in two ways. Not allowing yourself enough hours to sleep is called sleep deprivation. Having enough hours to sleep, but unable to sleep is insomnia. The end result of both is the same: you are not getting enough sleep. Although, the solution to each will be different.

Solving sleep deprivation can be done easily by changing your lifestyle, your work schedule, or getting proper medical treatment for sleep deprivation related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and depression.

Insomnia is more difficult to solve. Its symptoms includes, difficulty falling asleep, unable to stay asleep during the night, difficulty returning to sleep, waking up too early in the morning, and feeling tired and drained.

Your first line of defense against insomnia is to check if you are being stressed out by physical discomfort, emotional problems, or an uncomfortable sleeping environment. In many cases, when you find solutions to these problems, your insomnia should go away.

When your insomnia does not go away, the reason may be an underlying disease like obstructive sleep apnea, which makes you stop breathing temporarily and forces you to wake up. This occurs when your tonsils or adenoids located in the passage that connects your nose to your throat becomes enlarge because of overweight or obesity.

Other underlying diseases may include, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) where the stomach acid moves up into the esophagus producing heart burn. GERD symptoms are worse when lying down, and can interfere with the sleep cycle. Nightmares, narcolepsy and sleep walking can also interfere with the sleep cycle.

Your sleep cycle is the various stages of sleep your body goes through during the sleep-wake period. There is no fixed pattern to the amount of time spent in each stage. 

Stage 1 is the transition to sleep. It lasts for 5 minutes during which the eyes move slowly under the eye lids, muscles activity slows down, and you are easily awakened.

Stage 2 is the first stage of true sleep. It last for 10 to 25 minutes when the eyes movement stops, the heart rate slows down and the body temperature decreases. 

Stage 3 is deep sleep when it is difficult to be awakened, and when awakened you will feel groggy and disorientated for several minutes.

Stage 4 is intense deep sleep. Your brain waves are very slow, blood flow is directed away from your brain and toward the muscles to repair muscles and restore energy depleted during the day. These four sleep stages are called Non-REM sleep, because during these your eyes do not move rapidly under your eye lids.

The REM sleep stage begins about 70 to 90 minutes after falling asleep when dreaming occurs. The eyes move rapidly under the eye lids, breathing is shallow, the heart rate and blood pressure increase, and the arms and legs become still.

The importance of these sleep stages is that if you cannot get past stages 1 and 2 because of a noisy or uncomfortable sleep environment, you will not get to states 3 and 4 where deep and intense deep sleep occurs, when the body does its repair work: building muscles and tissues, secreting growth hormones for growth in children and repairing and growing tissues in adults.

It has been found that sleep deprivation and insomnia lead to deficiencies in the immune system  making the body less able to defend itself against invading microorganisms, and probably the reason you will get fever if you stayed awake, or don't get enough sleep for several days.

According to the National Institute of Health, an average adult needs 7.5 to 9 hours sleep a night to fully restore the mental and physical energies depleted during the day from thinking, creating, walking, lifting and moving things.

Even so, many people believe all they need are 6 hours of sleep a night to have their energies restored for the next day's activities. But, with time they find that their mental sharpness, creativity, productivity, emotional balance and physical vitality begin to fall, as the body struggles to deal with daytime sleeping, reduced concentration, irritability and slow reaction time.

If you are experiencing any of these sleep related problems, you now know why. Increasing the number of sleep hours you get at night will begin to solve these problems. Yet, as I have said, you can increase the number of sleep hours, and still not be able to actually sleep the same number of hours, if you have insomnia.

If you have insomnia, you need to do more than simply increasing the number of  sleep hours. Your sleep environment is an important determinant whether you are able to get past stages 1 and 2 of your sleep cycle, as these stages are when you are sleeping lightly, and easily awakened.

Avoid noises and bright lights. Turning off the television and radio, and removing all physical discomfort will prevent things from happening in your sleep environment that will start you thinking, or require you to get up to find out what is going on.

It commonly known that an effective way to fall asleep is to empty your mind of all thoughts. The problem is even as you struggle to empty your mind of all thoughts, you will be worrying if you are succeeding in doing so. 

However, if you succeed in keeping all thoughts from your mind for at lest 10 to 15 minutes you are more likely to fall asleep, because when the mind is empty it will have nothing to do, and so fall asleep.

Avoid talking about unpaid bills and controversial issues when you are nearing your bed time. By doing this, you will prevent your mind from continuing the discussion while you are attempting to sleep. And when your mind is actively finding solutions to these problems, you cannot sleep

It has been suggested that to get a better night sleep, it is necessary to get in sync with your circadian rhythm, or your natural sleep-wake cycle. This requires that you maintain a regular sleep schedule, meaning going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. While this is possible for some people to do, for others it is not because of their work schedule, or some other demands on their lifestyle.

Forty to 60 minutes of regular physical exercise is very helpful for a good night sleep. You could do this any time during the day, but be sure it is 3 to 4 hours before your bed time.

I will say this about sleeping pills: they should be taken only for short periods. If used for a long period of time, you will have side effects like drug tolerance, drug interactions, drug dependence, your insomnia will get worse when you stop taking them, withdrawal symptoms, and they may mask an underlying disease.

Without sleeping pills, a good night sleep is most likely when you have your spouse or significant other lying beside you, as you go past stages 1 and 2 into deep sleep stages 3 and 4 of your sleep cycle. You will find, however, that merely having someone lying beside you is not a panacea in itself. The quality of the relationship you have with your spouse or significant other is what matters the most.

Yes, I know you didn't expect to find that a good night sleep had something to do with the quality of the relationship with your spouse or significant other. It does, in the sense that if you are in a bitter power struggle with your spouse or significant other, as you lie on the same bed, you are projecting negative thoughts toward each other. This will occur even if you are sleeping in different beds and in different rooms.

When these negative thoughts collide, they create a sleep environment that produces many disturbing questions that demand answers. The effect of this is that you and your spouse or significant other will spend most of the night, if not all of it, finding answers to these disturbing questions, while unable to sleep.

How you solve this problem turns on the adage, "Don't let the sun set on your anger". When you allow the sun to set on your anger, you give your anger enough time to develop roots, and by the next day it would have borne poisonous fruits.

You can avoid producing these poisonous fruits by agreeing with your spouse or significant other to perform a little ritual whenever there is a power struggle crisis. Before you go to sleep, you will tell your spouse or significant other that you have forgiven him or her for any known or unknown things said or done to offend you, and are now putting them in an imaginary manila envelop, and will think about them no more.

Your spouse or significant other will also tell you those same words. When done, the two of you will seal the imaginary manila envelop with a kiss, or some other romantic act and throw the imaginary manila envelop in an imaginary garbage can. 

To make the ritual more real, you may want to have an actual manila envelop, and go through the motion of emptying your minds of all the negative things said and done into it, then seal it and throw it into an actual garbage can.

If the ritual is done honestly, as you lie side by side on your bed, you will be projecting positive thoughts toward each other. And when positive thoughts collide, they create a sleep environment that produces genuine feeling of forgiveness, kindness and love for your spouse or significant other.

If you cannot fall into deep sleep in this comfortable and romantic sleep environment, your sleep problem may have behind it an underlying pathology, and you need to see your doctor immediately.

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