Adequate sleep is not only vital for our survival but for optimal emotional, psychological, cognitive and physical functioning as well. Despite this fact, millions of people are suffering from sleep deprivation.
The fact that humans spend approximately one-third of their lives sleeping is a clear indication of its importance to our health and well-being, however we are only beginning to understand the depth of its many roles.
Although anyone may be vulnerable to an occasional night of sleeplessness that may disrupt the following day, it is the lack of sleep on a regular basis, also known as sleep deprivation, that has long term consequences. We are a sleep-deprived society and this is wrecking havoc not only on our mental and physical health, but society as a whole as work productivity and the way we interact with one another is greatly impacted.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation or Lack of Sleep
Lack of sleep can be as dangerous to your health as smoking. Studies have shown that people who slept 7 to 8 hours a night lived significantly longer than those who didn't. Getting enough sleep appears to play a crucial role in a healthy nervous system, emotional health, memory, learning, problem solving, release of hormones, decision making, social interaction, immune function, maintaining body temperature, concentration, inability to lose weight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, heart disease and many more. As a matter of fact, sleep has an impact on pretty much any medical condition that exists in one way or another. The effects of sleep deprivation can be exhibited in all areas of your of your life including:
-- Emotional - you may be more frustrated, irritable, cranky and moody
-- Social - you may be difficult to get along with, lack of desire to socialize
-- Cognitive - impaired ability to learn, poor memory, decreased problem solving abilities
-- Physical - productivity is impaired, fatigue, a compromised immune system which leaves you vulnerable to disease, infection, and colds etc.
-- Safety - judgment may be impaired, your less aware and alert which can lead to accidents, hand eye coordination is impaired
Sleep also restores our physical and mental energy. The body repairs itself while we sleep. It detoxes, heals and replenishes. Thus, for any individual living with chronic illness or chronic pain, obtaining adequate sleep is even more vitally important. We need adequate sleep to help us cope with stress, to relieve pain and fatigue and keep symptoms to a minimum. Lack of sleep in the chronically ill often increases pain and fatigue and exacerbates whatever symptoms they may experience.
Symptoms and Signs of Sleep Deprivation
The two most common signs of sleep deprivation are:
-- drowsiness -- daytime sleepiness
However, other symptoms may include, but are not limited to:
-- clumsiness -- lack of concentration -- falling asleep during the day -- falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow -- need caffeine or other stimulants to stay awake or get going -- feeling utterly exhausted in the morning -- excessive yawning -- inability to sleep -- overwhelming need to sleep through the day -- waking through the night -- making lots of avoidable mistakes -- slow reaction time -- irritability -- edginess -- inability to handle stress -- memory and concentration difficulties
It's important to note that many of the signs of sleep deprivation can also be the result of other conditions or issues. For example, many of the symptoms listed above can also be a sign of adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism or menopause. So it's important to see a physician and rule out other factors.
Long term sleep deprivation can even lead to serious symptoms like hallucinations, paranoia and delusions.
How Much Sleep do we Need?
The amount of sleep we need is dependent on several factors, with age being the most prominent. For example, newborns and toddlers may need 18 hours, while adolescents typically need 9 or 10 and the average adults needs between 7 and 9. Our sleep needs may also be dependent on the level of physical activity we engage in, those who exert themselves a great deal may need more than a sedentary person, but that may not always be the case, because a job that requires a great deal of mental and cognitive activity can be just as tiring as working in the garden all day.
So how much sleep do we need actually varies from person to person and changes throughout the cycle of life. Experts used to recommend seven to eight hours of sleep, but it is now believed by some experts that the average adult needs an average of nine hours sleep. Some need less and some need more. For those living with chronic illness, more may be required, or frequent naps will be necessary. Your body will tell you how much sleep you need if you pay attention. Feeling refreshed and well is often not possible for those with chronic illness or pain, but find the amount you need to function as optimally as possible for your situation.
A good rule of thumb is this: Don't use an alarm clock -- Sleep until your body wakes up. This is how much sleep you need.
Causes of Sleep Deprivation
One of the primary reasons we are a sleep deprived society is because people don't' understand the importance of sleep and since most people don't have enough time in their days, they don't make it a priority in their life. Most people are living a life that is going too fast in the fast lane. They are short on time, have too many demands and have too much to accomplish in one day. So they cut sleep out of their schedule to make room for everything else and although it works as a short-term solution, in the long run the end result is detrimental to their health and counterproductive.
People must come understand that getting adequate sleep is a basic need, just like eating and going to the bathroom. They must make it a priority in their life. They must make time for it and understand that their quality and even the quantity of life may be in jeopardy.
The second major contributing factor to sleep deprivation is the inability to sleep or insomnia. Insomnia is one of the most common medical complaints in our society and it is estimated that 10 to 15 % of the population may be suffering from chronic insomnia.
By definition insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep once sleep has been attained. There is primary insomnia - which means it occurs without any other health condition - and secondary insomnia - which means it is the result of another underlying condition like a headache, respiratory problem, arthritis, etc.,
There are also three types of insomnia -- transient, short-term or acute and chronic or long-term. Transient usually lasts for just a few nights while short term insomnia may be two to four weeks. Both transient and acute often occur in response to a temporary life event like the break up of a relationship or loss of a loved one, medication, something you ate, stress, weather, noise, jet lag etc. It's over when the situation that is setting it off resolves itself and although there are short term consequences, there are no long term consequences to deal with.
Chronic insomnia is ongoing and happens almost every night for a month or longer and sometimes for even years. As anyone who has dealt with even one night of sleeplessness knows, this can be maddening. It has a profound impact on the quality of life and this is when the consequences become a serious concern.
Causes of Insomnia
There are many causes or contributing factors to insomnia. Some are major and some are minor and sometimes it varies depending on whether you're dealing with transient, acute or chronic insomnia. However the items in bold below are the major factors that are found in most everyone with chronic insomnia.
Neurotransmitters and Hormones
To understand why insomnia is practically an epidemic in our society, you must first understand that chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters regulate our sleep/awake patterns. If these neurotransmitters are not functioning properly, are disrupted, depleted or imbalanced it will impact whether we sleep or not and the quality of our sleep. Serotonin levels that are too low or epinephrine/norepenephrine levels that are too high or melatonin levels that are too low will result in insomnia or sleep disturbances.
Additionally, our hormones and adrenal glands also contribute to our patterns of sleep. A progesterone deficiency, excessive estrogen, too much cortisol in the evening, not enough DHEA, adrenal deficiency and thyroid disorders can all contribute to insomnia.
There are many factors that impact how our neurotransmitters, hormones and adrenal glands function. Each of the factors below are major contributors for creating deficiencies, imbalances or malfunctioning in our neurotransmitters, hormones and adrenal glands.
Sugar, white flour, caffeine and other junk food is not only destructive to our health, but they also have a serious impact on the neurotransmitters in the brain.
2. Environmental Toxins
Common everyday chemicals found in your perfume, air fresheners, cleaning supplies, personal care products, herbicides and pesticides, laundry soap, carpeting, fabric softener etc., as well as heavy metal poisoning and mold can also disrupt, alter, and deplete neurotransmitters, hormones and adrenals.
3. Excessive Stress
High levels of stress that don't ease up also have a negative impact on hormones, adrenals and neurotransmitters.
Sometimes neurotransmitters can be out of balance because many people are born with deficiencies they inherited.
Undiagnosed food sensitivities is often a major contributing factor to insomnia because they too have the ability alter neurotransmitters and cause a variety of other disruptive symptoms that may interfere with sleep.
Nutritional deficiencies, particular in magnesium, calcium, iron, B1, B5, B6, B3 or excessive levels of copper, chromium or vitamin D are also common culprits of insomnia.
Other possible causes of insomnia may include alcoholism; nicotine; recreational drugs; gastrointestinal disturbances; excessive noise; need to urinate; chronic pain; disturbance in circadian rhythm; working shifts; not allowing enough time for sleep; excessive worry; traveling across time zones; medical conditions; menopause; PMS; alcohol; restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.
Natural Sleep Aids
There are a lot of natural sleep aids that can be used to address sleep deprivation and insomnia. The first and most important step is to identify your causes of insomnia with the tests recommended below, by doing this you can work with your health care provider to create a plan that will help you find the relief you desire. Then make the changes in diet and lifestyle as suggested to enhance your results even further.
1. Have melatonin and neurotransmitter testing performed and supplement with amino acids and other nutrients accordingly. Amino acids are the precursors for neurotransmitters and amino acid therapy is effective for bringing neurotransmitters back into balance.
2. Test for adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances and thyroid problems and address as instructed.
3. Have testing for nutritional deficiencies and supplement the diet accordingly.
4. Have food sensitivity testing and adjust diet accordingly.
5. Test for heavy metals and address accordingly.
6. Remove alcohol, sugar, caffeine, white flour and other refined foods from the diet and eat organic (foods that aren't organic contain environmental toxins that alter neurotransmitters, hormones and adrenals.)
7. Clean up environmental toxins. Switch to non-toxic environmentally friendly products in your home, garden and yard.
It is especially important to keep your sleeping environment clean and free from toxic chemicals such as perfumes, cleaning supplies, pesticides etc.
Use sheets and blankets that are made of natural fibers. Synthetic fibers are a chemical and can stimulate the brain and prevent you from sleeping. Don't wash your bedding with bleach or scented laundry products for the same reason.
Herbicides and pesticides are especially crucial to avoid. They are exceptionally toxic and cause excessive disruption and damage to neurotransmitters, adrenals and hormones. I once didn't' sleep for almost an entire year after an herbicide exposure got in my home. When I finally left that environment and went into a clean one, I couldn't' stop sleeping for three months as my body tried to catch up on what it lost.
8. Turn out all the lights. Studies suggest that the brain can't produce enough melatonin, the chemical required for sleeping, if we are exposed to light while sleeping.
9. Exercise at least 30 minutes daily. Exercise should not be too strenuous or extreme, because if it's too extreme it can deplete adrenal glands and neurotransmitters further. Also be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime, as this will prevent you from becoming sleepy.
10. Eat a diet that is low in carbohydrates - yes even complex ones and high in meat protein.
11. Try and maintain a regular routine of getting up and going to bed around the same time. This will help those with self-imposed sleep deprivation to be more disciplined and it sets a sleep cycle that the body will become accustomed to following.
12. Make sure room the temperature is not too cold or too hot. Extreme heat in either direction can disrupt sleep.
13. Take a warm bath or shower just prior to bedtime.
14.Read or watch TV if these are relaxing for you, if they are stimulating then you would want to avoid.
15. Avoid conversations on the phone right before trying to go to sleep.
16. Some people who are experiencing a bout of transient insomnia may find particular natural sleep aids like valerian root or chamomile to be helpful, but personally I don't like promoting herbs for sleep, because they can be just like drugs and only cover up the problem. Herbs are also not very effective when exposure to pesticides or a diet high in sugar and caffeine is the culprit of insomnia.
17. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or meditation right after laying down may be helpful in encouraging sleep.
18 If you're having difficulty getting to sleep or wake up in the middle of the night, having an orgasm can help you. After having an orgasm, endorphins are released that make you relaxed and sleepy. You must be lying down at the time of the orgasm and then immediately close your eyes and attempt to sleep, before the endorphins wear off.
19. Find effective ways of minimizing and coping with stress, like walking, gardening, music, yoga, meditating, deep breathing exercises or venting with a friend, mentor or counselor.
20. Do not use drugs (prescription or otherwise, to assist you in sleeping) Drugs interfere in stage IV sleep, which only aggravates symptoms and robs you of the benefits you should derive from sleeping. Drug induced sleep is not healthy sleep. There is also a risk of becoming dependent on sleep aids, and it is best to avoid them if possible.
Sleep deprivation and insomnia can be successfully addressed with the use of these natural sleep aids. What's even better is that beyond the initial testing for neurotransmitters, adrenals and hormones the majority of these aids don't cost you anything. By making simple changes in your diet and the products you use in your home, sleep deprivation and insomnia can often be overcome. I can personally attest to their effectiveness, as I have overcome my insomnia and improved the quality of my sleep by following the suggestions I have shared. I personally have found that not eating sugar, caffeine, white flour or too many carbohydrates and cleaning up environmental toxins and getting regular exercise are the three most crucial steps.