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Importance Of Sleep

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on October 27, 2008

 

Source: American Psychological Association (APA)

 

Sleep is essential for a person’s health and wellbeing, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) of America. Yet millions of people do not get enough sleep and many suffer from lack of sleep. For example, surveys conducted by the NSF reveal that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Most of those with these problems go undiagnosed and untreated. In addition, more than 40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each month – with 20 percent reporting problem sleepiness a few days a week or more. Furthermore, 69 percent of children experience one or more sleep problems a few nights or more during a week.

What are the signs of excessive sleepiness?

According to psychologist and sleep expert David F. Dinges, Ph.D., of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, irritability, moodiness and disinhibition are some of the first signs a person experiences from lack of sleep. If a sleep-deprived person doesn’t sleep after the initial signs, said Dinges, the person may then start to experience apathy, slowed speech and flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to be novel or multitask. As a person gets to the point of falling asleep, he or she will fall into micro sleeps(5-10 seconds) that cause lapses in attention, nod off while doing an activity like driving or reading and then finally experience hypnagogic hallucinations, the beginning of REM sleep. (Dinges, Sleep, Sleepiness and Performance, 1991)

Amount of sleep needed

Everyone’s individual sleep needs vary. In general, most healthy adults are built for 16 hours of wakefulness and need an average of eight hours of sleep a night. However, some individuals are able to function without sleepiness or drowsiness after as little as six hours of sleep. Others can’t perform at their peak unless they’ve slept ten hours. And, contrary to common myth, the need for sleep doesn’t decline with age but the ability to sleep for six to eight hours at one time may be reduced. (Van Dongen & Dinges, Principles & Practice of Sleep Medicine, 2000)

What causes sleep problems?

Psychologists and other scientists who study the causes of sleep disorders have shown that such problems can directly or indirectly be tied to abnormalities in the following systems:

Physiological systems

  • Brain and nervous system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Metabolic functions
  • Immune system

Furthermore, unhealthy conditions, disorders and diseases can also cause sleep problems, including:

  • Pathological sleepiness, insomnia and accidents
  • Hypertension and elevated cardiovascular risks (MI, stroke)
  • Emotional disorders (depression, bipolar disorder)
  • Obesity; metabolic syndrome and diabetes
  • Alcohol and drug abuse

 

Groups that are at particular risk for sleep deprivation include night shift workers, physicians (average sleep = 6.5 hours a day; residents = 5 hours a day), truck drivers, parents and teenagers. (American Academy of Sleep Medicine and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Working Group on Problem Sleepiness.

How environment and behavior affect a person’s sleep

Stress is the number one cause of short-term sleeping difficulties, according to sleep experts. Common triggers include school- or job-related pressures, a family or marriage problem and a serious illness or death in the family. Usually the sleep problem disappears when the stressful situation passes. However, if short-term sleep problems such as insomnia aren’t managed properly from the beginning, they can persist long after the original stress has passed.

Drinking alcohol or beverages containing caffeine in the afternoon or evening, exercising close to bedtime, following an irregular morning and nighttime schedule, and working or doing other mentally intense activities right before or after getting into bed can disrupt sleep.

If you are among the 20 percent of employees in the United States who are shift workers, sleep may be particularly elusive. Shift work forces you to try to sleep when activities around you – and your own “biological rhythms” – signal you to be awake. One study shows that shift workers are two to five times more likely than employees with regular, daytime hours to fall asleep on the job.

Traveling also disrupts sleep, especially jet lag and traveling across several time zones. This can upset your biological or “circadian” rhythms.

Environmental factors such as a room that’s too hot or cold, too noisy or too brightly lit can be a barrier to sound sleep. And interruptions from children or other family members can also disrupt sleep. Other influences to pay attention to are the comfort and size of your bed and the habits of your sleep partner. If you have to lie beside someone who has different sleep preferences, snores, can’t fall or stay asleep, or has other sleep difficulties, it often becomes your problem too!

Having a 24/7 lifestyle can also interrupt regular sleep patterns: the global economy that includes round the clock industries working to beat the competition; widespread use of nonstop automated systems to communicate and an increase in shift work makes for sleeping at regular times difficult.

How to get a good night sleep

According to sleep researchers, a night’s sleep is divided into five continually shifting stages, defined by types of brain waves that reflect either lighter or deeper sleep. Toward morning, there is an increase in rapid eye movement, or REM sleep, when the muscles are relaxed and dreaming occurs, and recent memories may be consolidated in the brain. The experts say that hitting a snooze alarm over and over again to wake up is not the best way to feel rested. “The restorative value of rest is diminished, especially when the increments are short,” said psychologist Edward Stepanski, PhD who has studied sleep fragmentation at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. This on and off again effect of dozing and waking causes shifts in the brain-wave patterns. Sleep-deprived snooze-button addicts are likely to shorten their quota of REM sleep, impairing their mental functioning during the day. (New York Times, October 12, 2004)

Certain therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy teach people how to recognize and change patterns of thought and behavior to solve their problems. Recently this type of therapy has been shown to be very effective in getting people to fall asleep and conquer insomnia.

According to a study published in the October 2004 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine, cognitive behavior therapy is more effective and lasts longer than a widely used sleeping pill, Ambien, in reducing insomnia. The study involved 63 healthy people with insomnia who were randomly assigned to receive Ambien, the cognitive behavior therapy, both or a placebo. The patients in the therapy group received five 30-minute sessions over six weeks. They were given daily exercises to “recognize, challenge and change stress-inducing” thoughts and were taught techniques, like delaying bedtime or getting up to read if they were unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes. The patients taking Ambien were on a full dose for a month and then were weaned off the drug. At three weeks, 44 percent of the patients receiving the therapy and those receiving the combination therapy and pills fell asleep faster compared to 29 percent of the patients taking only the sleeping pills. Two weeks after all the treatment was over, the patients receiving the therapy fell asleep in half the time it took before the study and only 17 percent of the patients taking the sleeping pills fell asleep in half the time. (New York Times, October 5, 2004)

According to leading sleep researchers, there are techniques to combat common sleep problems:

  • Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule
  • Don’t drink or eat caffeine four to six hours before bed and minimize daytime use
  • Don’t smoke, especially near bedtime or if you awake in the night
  • Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before sleep
  • Get regular exercise
  • Minimize noise, light and excessive hot and cold temperatures where you sleep
  • Develop a regular bed time and go to bed at the same time each night
  • Try and wake up without an alarm clock
  • Attempt to go to bed earlier every night for certain period; this will ensure that you’re getting enough sleep

 

 

 

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