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Sweet Dreams – Why A Lack Of Sleep Can Kill You And What To Do About It!
Sleep is the gateway to your dreams. One of the most important building blocks of vitality lies in the healing power of sleep, an amazing life-sustaining system that can make immediate and dramatic changes in your well-being.
Sleep is when the body enters deepening metabolic states for your nighttime repair system, allowing your body to adjust everything from your basic body chemistry to your thoughts and emotions. Research shows that sleep performs three vital functions to maintain life and vitality:
1. Sleep rejuvenates your body’s chemistry for renewed energy.
2. Sleep recharges your immune system and heals damage to your body.
3. Sleep helps process, sort and store everything you’ve learned, felt or experienced during the day.
Good health is equally balanced across the mind (mental/emotional), body (structural and neuromuscular) and energy production (biochemical) – a balancing act accomplished at night by sleep.
Stages of sleep
Sleep is divided into four stages of Non-REM sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Dreaming occurs in both stages, but mostly during the REM sleep phase. Each cycle of Non REM sleep and REM sleep repeats every 90 minutes, which is classified as one cycle. Five to six cycles per night is the ideal amount of sleep required for people aged 15 years and older, which can be achieved over a duration of 8 hours.
Children have an even greater need for sleep than adults, as sleep stimulates growth, correct brain development, memory, vigilance and strengthens their immune system. Children who get enough sleep are more likely to function better and are less prone to behavioral problems, mood swings, hyperactivity and nightmares.
The following chart guides the recommended hours of sleep (which includes naps) for children from birth up to 15 years of age.
The child’s age and the required hours of sleep:
0-2 months (10.5-18 hours)
2-12 months (14-15 hours)
1-3 years (12-14 hours)
3-5 years (11-12 hours)
5-12 years (10-11 hours)
12-15 years (9-10 hours)
Unfortunately, people may override the biological need to sleep in order to respond to stressful situations such as work demands or social pressure. Prolonged stressful experiences in childhood and perceived life stress are associated with disturbances in sleep quality and insomnia. In fact, since 1910, the amount of sleep we get has steadily declined by a whopping 22%, dropping from 9 hours to just 7 hours per night. night. This is a “sleeping time bomb” in terms of health.
Sleep is Vital
Few people realize that every hour of lost sleep is taking a toll on their body as if they were using a lifetime credit card. Sleep debt builds up over years, months or days, gradually robbing people of their health. After oxygen and water, sleep is your most vital need, even more important than food!
Studies on sleep deprivation in the mid-1980s clearly showed that lack of adequate sleep can be fatal, at least in rats. While this extreme effect of sleep deprivation may not seem very relevant in the real world, it has an important message; that lack of sleep can kill.
If someone is completely sleep deprived, they can die within two weeks. If that’s not enough to scare you, short-term studies of sleep deprivation in humans have shown that a number of unwanted physiological effects can occur. These range from weight gain and accelerated aging, to making you vulnerable to diseases ranging from digestive disorders and depression to potentially fatal diseases caused by compromised immune function.
Insomnia and depression, is there a link?
Research shows that insomnia and depression are definitely linked. One of the symptoms of depression is insomnia – especially waking up early in the morning. In fact, 80% of depressed people are said to experience insomnia.
There is also evidence that depressed people enter REM sleep (dream sleep) earlier than non-depressed people and remain in REM for longer. This may be because they need to deal with emotions through dreams, or it may be that the occurrence of REM sleep means they are not getting enough restful deep sleep.
The best thing to do is to first try to understand what is causing the insomnia. Is it a specific incident or situation? Or do you generally feel depressed about everything? If the former is true, try to find a way around the situation, be solution oriented instead of always finding reasons why it can’t be done. If it is the latter, then you have clinical depression which requires medical attention.
However, it is important to be aware that some antidepressants can make you overstimulated and will definitely keep you awake. Talk to your doctor to see if your medication can do this and ask to be switched to a medication that helps you relax.
Taking proactive steps to solve a problem will always make you feel better and more in control.
Insomnia and pharmaceutical drugs
As might be expected, the use of medication for insomnia is common with anywhere between 3 and 10% of the general population using pharmaceutical drugs any time or all the time to help them sleep. The most popular medications, benzodiazepines (benzos) receptor agonists, are associated with dependence and tolerance.
Some of the more common substances in this group are:
o Diazepam (eg Valium, Antenex, Ducene)
o Temazepam (e.g. Normison, Temaze, Temtabs, Euhypnos)
o Flunitrazepam (e.g. Hypnodorm)
o Nitrazepam (e.g. Mogadon, Alodorm)
o Oxazepam (e.g. Serepax, Alepam, Murelax)
o Alprazolam (eg Xanax, Kalma)
o Clonazepam (eg Rivotril, Paxam)
o Lorazepam (eg Ativan)
Short term effects –
o relaxation, drowsiness, lethargy, fatigue
o memory impairment (especially short-term memory)
o impairment of motor coordination, thinking and memory (reduced reaction time and increased risk of accidents)
o dizziness, blurred vision, dizziness
o slurred speech
o altered mood (depression or euphoria), confusion
o sensitivity reactions (e.g. rash)
o high doses can lead to paradoxical effects such as rage or uncharacteristic behavior, a person can feel invisible, invulnerable and invincible
o drug interactions – especially with other depressants (eg alcohol, opioids – deaths from respiratory depression have occurred with these combinations)
Long-term effects –
o lethargy, sleepiness and lack of motivation
o emotional blunting (inability to feel the normal ups and downs, inability to grieve), depression, irritability
o impairment of memory
o muscle weakness
o headache, nausea, weight gain
o Menstrual irregularities, breast engorgement, decreased libido
Tolerance and Addiction-
Benzodiazepine tolerance is common among people who take these drugs—meaning they need more of the drug to get the same effect they used to get with smaller amounts. Tolerance to the sleep-inducing and relaxing effects develops quickly.
Regular users of benzodiazepines can develop dependence after only 3-6 weeks at normal prescribed doses, and the likelihood of dependence increases with the duration of use and the amount. Addiction means that benzodiazepine use becomes central to a person’s life, and a lot of time can be spent thinking about, obtaining and using them. Dependent users may have difficulty controlling or stopping their use despite experiencing problems.
A person addicted to benzodiazepines is likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking them abruptly. It is recommended that a gradual reduction be made in consultation with a doctor. Withdrawal symptoms can be divided into three main groups, and they can include the return of symptoms for which the drugs were taken in the first place.
Anxiety and related symptoms, including:
o anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation, tremors
o sleep disturbances, muscle spasms, loss of appetite and weight loss
o visual disturbances, sweating
o mood swings (lack of pleasure)
Perceptual changes, including:
o hypersensitive to noise etc.
o abnormal sensations
o feelings of unreality
Major events including:
o severe confusion, hallucinations, paranoia
It is clear that there is a need for alternative sleep-promoting drugs and agents.
It’s really unfortunate that so many people find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, many natural remedies have been clinically proven to reduce the effects of stress and promote healthy sleep, thus offering a realistic alternative to popular but potentially problematic pharmaceuticals.
The old-fashioned remedy of giving a glass of warm milk before bed has long been a popular remedy for a good night’s sleep. Modern research has since isolated a bioactive milk peptide that may be responsible for this traditional use of milk.
Natural sleep remedies vary from herbal sleep aids to hormones and even certain foods. It’s a broad category, so it’s worth experimenting to see which of these remedies work best for you. It’s a good idea to try these natural sleep aids before jumping into the stronger “hypnotic” sleep medications.
Most of us know that it is wise to avoid caffeine in the evening if we want to sleep soundly, but there are other foods and drinks that can also have an effect on our sleep.
Let’s take a look at some of the foods that can help you sleep –
Bananas, turkey, figs, milk and yogurt, nut butters, tuna, and dates all contain tryptophan, which induces sleep.
Do not have a high protein snack close to bedtime. This can block the synthesis of serotonin, making you feel restless. Have a high-carbohydrate snack instead. Carbohydrates eaten at least an hour before bed will calm you down and let you doze off faster. If you like rice, jasmine rice is particularly effective. Healthier choices are brown rice, oats, and anything made with whole wheat.
And the foods to avoid include –
Coffee, tea, alcohol and cola drinks. Others include hard-to-digest foods such as fatty or spicy foods, bacon, chocolate, sugar (which increases blood glucose levels and can cause a spike in energy levels), cheese, eggplant, potatoes, ham, sauerkraut, sausages, spinach, tomatoes and wine.
These foods all contain tyramine, which induces the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant. So don’t take any of these right before bed.
Now you’re probably wishing you never read this article! But unless people are trained to be aware of symptoms that appear in their waking lives, they may have a serious health problem without ever knowing it. If you can identify with any of the health problems discussed in this article, it would be very wise to seek advice and support from your doctor.
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