What Can You Do About Insomnia?

July 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Sleep

One of the most common sleep problems is insomnia. It may be difficult for you to fall asleep even when you’re tired. Or you fall asleep, but then wake frequently through the night. Maybe you have trouble getting back to sleep once you’re awake. Or wake too early in the morning. Some other symptoms of insomnia include not feeling refreshed by sleep, feeling tired or irritable during the day, and not being able to concentrate during the day.

However, insomnia is usually a symptom of another problem. Some medications can cause insomnia, such as antidepressants or blood pressure medications. Some medical conditions can cause insomnia, such as asthma, allergies, or kidney disease. Psychological problems which may be related to insomnia include depression, stress, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. And sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, RLS, or narcolepsy can cause insomnia.

You may find it helpful to use a sleep journal. Track when and where you fall asleep, what you eat and drink, and daily stressors. Things to look for include: caffeine consumption, daytime naps, irregular sleep habits, and late night TV/Internet habits. Look for connections between journal; entries and sleep problems.

There are habits you can adjust to help you fall asleep more easily. Stop taking daytime naps. Establish a regular sleep schedule for going to bed and getting up, even on weekends. Make sure you bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet. Avoid stress at bedtime. If you’re going to watch TV, avoid watching exciting action shows. Studies show that light comedy is best for encouraging sleep. Avoid caffeine. A warm bath may help you relax. Proponents of aromatherapy recommend lavender for it relaxation properties.

Relaxation techniques can be helpful. Establish a calming, quiet bedtime routine, such as quiet reading. Deep breathing and meditation are two other relaxation techniques you can try.

For many people, these simple techniques can help to relieve insomnia. However, you may need to see you doctor if your insomnia doesn’t respond to any of these strategies. You should also see your doctor if your insomnia is significantly interfering with your work or school, if it is getting worse, if you have physical symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain, if you suspect that the insomnia is a side-effect of medication, or if you suspect sleep apnea (a condition where you stop breathing during the night).

Insomnia can be scary, frustrating and inconvenient. It can also be an early warning system to help prevent bigger problems in the future.

Are Your Children Getting Enough Sleep?

July 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Sleep

When your child is a baby, it seems as if he sleeps all the time. But as he grows older, he sleeps less and less. Research show that many doctors stop asking about sleeping habits as children grow older. But many problems -physical, social, and behavioral—can be traced back to sleep deprivation.

During the sleep process, there are several cycles. Each cycle appears to have a different set of purposes, from memory to behavior to healing and immunity.

Elementary school children aged 7-12 need ten to eleven hours of sleep per night. However, most average about nine.

Teenagers 12-18 need eight to nine hours of sleep. However, teenagers often express their new independence by staying up late playing video games, chatting on the computer, or watching TV.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation in children may vary, and may not be obvious. Reluctance to get up in the morning, an inability to concentrate, sleepiness during school, fatigue, and headaches may all be indications that your child isn’t getting enough sleep.

How can you make a reluctant child go to sleep? You can’t force sleep, but you can identify and remove distractions, and insist on quiet time after certain hours. If he won’t turn off his computer after 10:00, remove it from his room.

The best time to establish good bedtime habits is while children are small. Have a regular routine, and stick with it. “You don’t have to go to sleep, but you have to lie down and rest quietly,” may be one way to enforce “bedtime” with a reluctant child.

One frustrated mother offered her teenager a raise on his allowance in return for going to bed on time and getting up without an argument.

Teenagers often aren’t mature enough to recognize the negative effects of a lack of sleep. Forgetfulness and personality changes can be a sleep problem—or just typical teen behavior.

Many of the positive effects of adequate sleep aren’t readily visible. There’s no way to tell how efficient his immune system is, or how quickly a wound will heal, or even how well his brain is developing—all critical physical responses to the sleep cycle.

It may be critical for parents to set a good sleep example, and insist on compliance with sleep rules, even during holidays, weekends, and summer vacation. They won’t like it; they will probably argue that they aren’t babies anymore, etc.

But it’s like eating vegetables or dressing warm to go out it the cold. Sometimes a parent has to do what’s right for the child, whether the child likes it or not. So tell him to turn off the video game and get some sleep!

Do You Have Sleep Apnea?

July 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Sleep

Researchers estimate that over 20 million Americans may suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea. This oversight can result in health conditions that can cause a person’s medical expenses to double over what they would have been if the sleep apnea had been caught in time. While sleep apnea has been considered to affect adults more than children, it appears to run in families and has been implicated in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Furthermore, it has been discovered that over 87% of overweight diabetics suffer from sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea occurs when you stop breathing during sleep. There are three types of sleep apnea. In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the brain sends the signal, the muscles try to respond, but the airway is blocked. In mixed sleep apnea, both types are occurring in the same person. The lack of oxygen disrupts the normal sleep cycle. While you may not remember waking, you partially awaken and resume breathing. Because the sleep cycle is interrupted, you fail to get the full restorative benefit of deep sleep, even though you appear to have gotten plenty of sleep.

One common indicator of sleep apnea is excessive snoring, especially if it starts and stops. Other common symptoms are headaches, poor memory, irritability, frequent naps, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue. A state of constant sleep deprivation can also result in personality changes and even nausea.

If you doctor suspects sleep apnea, he may ask you a series of questions about sleep habits. He may then do a physical examination of your nose and throat area.

The most common test for sleep apnea is the sleep study. The patient stays overnight at the sleep study center, where machines monitor breathing to determine whether there are any incidents of sleep apnea. The number of times the patient stops breathing is used to score the severity of the apnea.

Non-surgical treatments include behavior modification (such as changing sleep position or losing weight), medication, dental appliances, and CPAP machines (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). Surgical treatments include palate implants, nasal surgery, genioglossus advancement, tongue reduction and bariatric surgery.

It is estimated that only 10% of people who have sleep apnea are receiving treatment for the disorder. However, the lack of treatment can have serious consequences. Some of the risks include: heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and sudden death, as well as decreased productivity, decreased attentiveness, and a 300% increase in the likelihood of being in a serious car accident due to daytime drowsiness.

If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, check with your doctor right away.

What Happens When You Sleep?

July 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Sleep

The sleep process is a series of brain activity cycles. REM sleep is characterized by Rapid Eye Movement. NREM (Non-rapid eye movement) sleep goes through four stages.

Sleep begins with NREM sleep, with each of the four stages generally lasting from five to fifteen minutes.

In Stage 1, the eyes are closed, and the person awakens easily. One may experience a feeling of falling, or involuntary muscle contractions. Stage 2 is characterized by a slowing heart rate, and temperature of the body decreases. Stage 3and 4 are stages of deep sleep, during which the body repairs itself, builds muscle and bone, and strengthens the immune system. If awakened during this state, the person may be disoriented.

The first REM stage usually begins after about 90 minutes of NREM sleep. The first REM stage is about 10 minutes long; each REM stage is longer, with the final one up to an hour in length. During REM sleep, both respiration and heart rate are fast and erratic, along with eye movement.

An increase in brain activity during REM sleep produces vivid dreams. At the same time, the person experiences paralysis in major muscle groups. There are several theories, one of which is that during REM sleep, one part of the brain is “filing” the day’s observations and memories, and another part of the brain is attempting to link them into a single “story” resulting in some of the odd dreams people experience. Scientists also theorize that the muscle paralysis may occur in order to prevent physical harm from the body “acting out” the dreams.

As the body ages, there are changes in sleep patterns. Babies are in the REM state about 50% of the time, while adults are in REM about 20% of the time. Adults spend less time in deep sleep, and the sleep cycles grow shorter.

There have been numerous tests to determine the effect of disruption of the sleep cycle. Disruption of the sleep cycle affected memory in different ways, depending upon when the interruptions occurred.

Other studies confirmed that adequate sleep promoted optimal wound healing and immune system effectiveness, while sleep deprivation had a negative effect on both.

REM sleep has been shown to be critical in brain development. Sleep deprivation in early life can lead to significant behavioral problems, as well as later developmental disabilities.

The sleep cycle is regulated by the circadian clock—an inner timer that regulates sleep, temperature, and enzymes within the body.

Is There Such a Thing as Sleeping Too Much?

July 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Sleep

It is common knowledge that getting too little sleep can lead to, or indicate, health problems. But how much sleep is “enough” and is there such a thing as getting too much sleep?

Most doctors recommend that people get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. The amount of sleep needed can vary with age, activity level, and health conditions. For example, if you are recovering from illness, you will probably need more sleep.

Oversleeping has been linked to health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. However, research also noted that depression and low socio-economic status are also linked with oversleeping, and scientists are unsure whether oversleeping is a cause or a symptom of these health conditions or whether other underlying conditions contribute to all these factors.

Two known medical reasons for oversleeping are hypersomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. In obstructive sleep apnea, the victim stops breathing multiple times during the night, and is unable to experience a normal sleep cycle.

Two other common reasons for oversleeping include alcohol or other substance abuse, and side-effects of medication. It may be important to let your doctor know about any sleep problems, especially if you have recently changed medications.

People who sleep 9-10 hours per night are more likely to be overweight. Sleeping more than nine hours per night (or less than five) increases the likelihood of developing diabetes. And oversleeping has also been connected with an increased risk of heart disease.

Headaches and back pain are also common among people who sleep more than nine hours per night. While depression is more often linked with insomnia, some depressed individuals sleep too much.

Finally, sleeping more than nine hours per night is indicative of a higher risk of death.

Again, scientists are unsure whether this risk is due to medical or socio-economic factors.

There are several ways to improve sleep habits. Maintaining a regularly scheduled time to go to bed and waking at the same time every morning can help regulate your sleep cycle. Avoiding caffeine late in the evening is another classic tactic to improve sleep habits. Some other suggestions include making sure your bedroom is a quiet, relaxing oasis of calm, watching comedy or documentary programs on TV instead of exciting action shows, and using lavender aromatherapy. Other methods may include a warm bath, or a drinking a warm glass of milk. These methods might improve the quality of your sleep and enable you to wake on time in the morning.