Sleep

An alarm clock with sheep (counting sheep) to denote the consequences of hypersomnia.

Hypersomnia: Causes and Treatment

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Characterized as either excessive amounts of time spent tired or asleep during the day, hypersomnia affects around 0.5% of Americans each and every year. Although this doesn’t sound like a huge amount, it accounts for 1.6 million people and this is only the number that seek treatment (the amount who don’t seek medical treatment is thought to be significant). In fact, the National Sleep Foundation believes 40% of us to experience the symptoms of hypersomnia to some degree.

In terms of the health condition itself, the sufferers have trouble staying awake through the day whether it’s at work, at home, or even while driving. While the problem is purely related to sleep, it has all sorts of side-effects such as a lack of energy and trouble concentrating on even simple tasks.

Causes of Hypersomnia

When looking for causes, it’s hard to look past two other sleep conditions; narcolepsy and sleep apnea. While the former is related to daytime sleepiness once again, the latter deals with interruptions within the normal breathing patterns as you sleep. Both of these issues lead to hypersomnia and make it hard to stay awake during daylight.

After this, we could also point to the following:

  • Being Overweight
  • Alcohol or Drug Abuse
  • Lack of Sleep (Night)
  • Prescription Drugs (Antihistamines or Tranquilizers)
  • Neurological Diseases (Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis)
  • Depression
  • Genetics

With so many different causes, it’s important to see a medical professional who can assess the issue and ask the right questions. While the internet and fantastic guides like this can give you an overview, we can’t provide you with personalized advice. In truth, your hypersomnia could be a combination of these causes.

A sleeping man on an orange background, to suggest hypersomnia in the daytime hours.

Hypersomnia can be caused by many different issues so it’s important for a healthcare professional to assess what they are and provide you with the treatment you need.

Treatment

When you first spot the pattern of drowsiness throughout the day, this is where your doctor should come in. Initially, they’ll discuss your personal life, including your sleeping habits, to get a better idea of why this might be happening. In addition to your sleep, they might also ask whether you’ve been through a stressful situation recently or whether you’re currently taking any drugs (prescription or otherwise).

If they can pinpoint the issue immediately, they’ll start working towards a solution as soon as possible. If not, they may take blood tests, a CT scan, and even a polysomnography; this is a sleep test where your brain waves are measured alongside your heart rate, breathing, and oxygen levels within the blood. If necessary, an EEG (electroencephalogram) could examine your electrical brain activity.

Depending on the cause, the doctor will take appropriate steps as a solution and this could involve stimulants, Provigil, Xyrem, or antidepressants. As mentioned, the applicable treatment will entirely depend on the issue.  Sleep apnea, for example, may require a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). With this treatment, you’ll wear a small mask over your face and this goes directly into a machine. Through the night, you’ll be provided with a flow of air to the nostrils which counteracts the condition. As the air flows into the nostrils, it keeps the airways open and you shouldn’t wake up in the night.

If you’ve been offered medication in the past and this didn’t work, don’t worry because they can switch your dosage or try a different solution. Sometimes, people need a heavier dose or a slightly different drug if the first didn’t have the intended reaction within the body. Often, people try medication once, feel disappointed with the results, and then forget the doctor altogether but this doesn’t have to be the case.

As we’ve seen, hypersomnia can also be caused by weight issues and a lack of sleep at night; sometimes, we get into the habit of staying up until 2am before the alarm then goes off for work at 6am. Although we all need different levels of sleep to operate, a sleep pattern of this nature won’t do any good at all. If your issue is one of these two causes, your doctor will recommend an adjustment to your lifestyle. Once again, it all depends on the cause but your solution might be a reduction in caffeine, more sleep at night, a diet to lose weight, less alcohol, etc.

If you’re currently suffering from hypersomnia, be sure to get medical attention because you don’t want to self-diagnose and then choose the wrong treatment. Instead, get assessed and have yourself back up to full health as soon as possible!

Patient lying in bed with postoperative pain in hospital room talking to doctor.

The Cure to Postoperative Pain: Sleep and Caffeine

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Patient lying in bed with postoperative pain in hospital room talking to doctor.

A good amount of sleep before surgery can reduce postoperative pain.

While surgery is necessary to prevent a condition, illness, or injury from getting worse, it still doesn’t make it any easier dealing with the pain that comes afterward. Postoperative pain can sometimes feel unbearable. Medications are able to reduce the pain but you’ll need all the help you can get to make the recovery process less stressful.

You’re probably wondering what other options are available. Well, if the University of Michigan’s Department of Anesthesiology is to be believed, a good night’s sleep and caffeine can make the pain go away. Sleep is always a major factor when it comes to how your body recovers. Let’s find out what how postoperative pain is affected by your sleep quality.

Looking Into Postoperative Pain

“Postoperative pain control is challenging,” says Giancarlo Vanini, M.D., a research assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at Michigan Medicine. “There is a general long-standing interest in the relationship between sleep and pain, and we know that both are reciprocally related.”

“Several studies demonstrate that pre- and postoperative sleep disturbances worsen pain and, more importantly, predict the onset of long-term postoperative pain. However, while the relationship between sleep and pain is well-known, its underlying mechanisms remain unclear.”

“Based on previous studies published by our group and others, we predicted that a brief sleep disturbance prior to surgery would worsen postoperative pain,” Vanini says. “But, we wanted to examine if there were any treatments or interventions that could aid to minimize the effect of sleep loss by reducing the severity of pain experienced after surgery.”

The Impact of Sleep Loss

To understand the dangers of sleep loss, let’s look at the impact it can have on your body. A lack of sleep, over a long period of time, can lead to a series of health problems. Sleep deprivation has long been associated with heart conditions like heart disease, heart attack, stroke, heart failure and more. Many sleep disorders are also known to put you at risk for stroke and diabetes.

Another part of the body that sleep loss can target is the mind. Sleep conditions like insomnia can put a tremendous amount of stress on the brain. Depression, anxiety, and stress are not uncommon among patients dealing with this condition. Sleep is also critical to your brain’s ability to process information. When people sleep normally, the mind is able to process our experiences into memories. The less sleep one receives, the harder it is for them to think, learn, and recall crucial information.

Using Caffeine as a Substitute for Sleep

While drinking caffeinated beverages is not the same as going to sleep, it can mimic its effects on our body. When we receive proper sleep, the body feels energize and no longer crave more sleep. The same effect happens with caffeine. A sleep inducer known as adenosine has no effect when the body has caffeine in its system. The body feels awake and focused, which is why many people choose to drink coffee in the morning.

Dr. Vanini and his team wanted to know how effective caffeine is at mimicking the effects of sleep. More specifically, they wanted to know if drinking caffeine could reduce postoperative pain like sleep does. “Insufficient sleep enhances pain perception, so we reasoned that caffeine might also be useful for reversing the increase in pain caused by sleep loss,” says Dr. Vanini. “We liked the potential of this intervention because it is simple and virtually everyone is familiar with caffeine.”

Results of the Study

Using test rats, the team sought to see the effects of sleep deprivation before surgery on postoperative pain, and how caffeine affects postoperative pain. Their hypothesis was right. The rats who didn’t receive enough sleep experienced more pain after surgery. Even worse, their recovery times took longer than it should have. However, the results were completely different for the rats that had caffeine in their system after surgery.

“The effect of sleep deprivation on pain sensitivity in operated and intact rats was virtually eliminated by pharmacologically blocking the action of adenosine in a brain region in the anterior hypothalamus known to regulate sleep, which is connected to major pain-related areas,” Dr. Vanini says.

“Caffeine blocked the increase in surgical pain caused by previous sleep loss,” Vanini says. “Surprisingly, the data showed that this is not due to caffeine’s analgesic properties.

“Furthermore, it looks like caffeine was effective only in those rats that underwent sleep deprivation before surgery. We think that caffeine might prevent the increase in pain sensitivity by blocking part of the neurochemical changes induced by sleep deprivation in specific brain areas that control sleep and wakefulness, and project to pain-related sites.”

Closeup of a young man in bed looking at the smartphone at night, which affects sleep quality.

Digital Technology and Sleep Quality: Keeping You Awake

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Closeup of a young man in bed looking at the smartphone at night, which affects sleep quality.

Don’t sacrifice sleep quality while using your phone.

It’s not just New York City that never sleeps anymore. With the rise of smartphones and digital devices, it seems the whole world is up 24/7. As a society, we seem to be addicted to the always connected nature of digital technology. But what effect does this behavior have on our sleep? It turns out that using technology right before we go to bed is contributing to the high prevalence of reported sleep dysfunction and poor sleep quality.

A Story All Too Familiar

What’s the last thing you remember doing before you went to bed? There’s a good chance you were up all night, lying in bed, scrolling through your social media feed with the lights off. Sometimes we are a slave to our phones and tablet. Analytics firm Flurry confirms that we spend almost 5 hours a day on our mobile devices. This is a significant increase from the amount of time we spent on our devices a couple of years ago.

Sleep-Wake Cycles and Sleep Quality

The evolution of how we consume media is beginning to show drastic consequences. Researchers at the University of Houston looked into the effect of artificial light generated from smartphones, tablets, and televisions. What they found is that this ‘blue light’ contributes to poor sleep quality and the development of sleep dysfunctions.

Over a period of two weeks, researchers had several participants, ages 17-42, wear short wavelength-blocking glasses for three hours before bedtime. During that time, the subjects were allowed to continue their daily routine as they normally would. Researchers found a 58 percent increase in their night time melatonin levels.

Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the brain. It helps control when we go to sleep and when we wake. Melatonin is heavily influenced by the amount of light we are exposed to. When the sun goes down, melatonin goes up. As the sun rises, the level of melatonin produced our brain decreases. This process controls our natural sleep-wake cycle.

“By using blue blocking glasses, we are decreasing input to the photoreceptors, so we can improve sleep and still continue to use our devices. That’s nice because we can still be productive at night,” Ostrin said.

Too Much Artificial Light Works Against Us

The blue light generated by our phones and devices is similar to the light from the sun. So, as we are using our phones or watching television before we sleep, our melatonin levels decrease. Our sleep-wake cycle is completely thrown off.

Exposure to sunlight, or blue light, activates intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs). This neuron is found in the retina and suppresses melatonin. Instead of preparing to rest, our body is alert and awake.

“The most important takeaway is that blue light at night time really does decrease sleep quality. Sleep is very important for the regeneration of many functions in our body,” says Dr. Ostrin.

What You Can Do at Home

While some of us feel like we can’t live without our phones, it’s important to spend some time away from them. You’ll find that your ability to fall asleep faster, sleep better, and sleep longer increases dramatically. There are some other methods you can apply if still want to use your phone at night.

Most phones have a neat little feature call night time mode. This decreases the amount of blue light your device produces. You can also apply screen filters that block blue light or use glasses with anti-reflective lenses.

Either way, you should find a way sleep better. Sleep deprivation can lead to a series of fatal diseases. Disorders like sleep apnea can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more. Take control of your sleep health early in order to stay happy and healthy.

Several women sitting at the doctor's office. Some have restless leg syndrome.

Restless Leg Syndrome an Indicator for Poor Sleep

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Several women sitting at the doctor's office. Some have restless leg syndrome.

Pregnancy and restless leg syndrome is more common than you think.

You’ve probably heard of restless leg syndrome (RLS) before. It’s a condition where you feel an uncontrollable need to move your leg. This can be due to unpleasantness or even a feeling of being uncomfortable. While this disorder can seem like a minor inconvenience, it can have impactful consequences. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) even classifies restless leg syndrome as an essential sleeping disorder.

Why Is Restless Leg Syndrome Classified as a Key Sleeping Disorder?

The symptoms of RLS can infer with sleep. The uncontrollable urge to move your legs can manifest from feelings of itchiness, pain, or discomfort. According to the CDC:

“This [RLS] often causes difficulty initiating sleep and is relieved by movement of the leg, such as walking or kicking. Abnormalities in the neurotransmitter dopamine have often been associated with RLS. Healthcare providers often combine a medication to help correct the underlying dopamine abnormality along with a medicine to promote sleep continuity in the treatment of RLS.”

There are several factors that lead to RLS, including:

  • Iron Deficiency
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Kidney Failure
  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Medications
  • Pregnancy

Recently, a study even looked into the link between RLS and pregnant women to find out the effect it has on one’s quality of sleep. The researchers discovered that the disorder is strongly associated with poor sleep quality, excessive daytime sleepiness, and poor daytime function in pregnant women.

RLS and Pregnant Women

It’s common for women in their third trimester to have restless sleep syndrome with moderate to severe symptoms. In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found this to be the case with 36 percent of pregnant women. These women were also twice as likely to experience symptoms of sleep-wake disturbances and daytime sleepiness.

“While we expected that RLS would be relatively common in pregnant women, we were surprised to observe just how many had a severe form,” said lead author Galit Levi Dunietz, Ph.D., a T32 post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center in Ann Arbor. “These women experienced RLS symptoms at least four times per week.”

The study looked at 1,563 pregnant women with an average age of 30 years, all in their third trimester. The researchers monitored their symptoms and gave them a sleep questionnaire to determine their status. Thankfully, they also determined that RLS had no adverse effect on the delivery process. However, researchers are afraid that doctors and other health care providers will dismiss sleep symptoms simply because women are pregnant.

“These sleep-wake disturbances are considered common symptoms in pregnancy and are frequently attributed to physiological changes that occur in normal pregnancy, but our data suggest that RLS is an additional contributor to these symptoms,” said Dunietz.

RLS usually goes away once pregnancy is over. The problem is dealing with the disorder during pregnancy. Some suggest that lifestyle changes, decreasing the use of caffeine, and regular exercise might help. Other methods for treating restless leg syndrome include leg massages, good sleeping habits, and hot baths. If you feel you have restless leg syndrome, talk to an otolaryngologist today.

Sick boy in a hospital bed with poor sleep health, which can contribute to post surgical pain.

Poor Sleep Health Results in Pain After Surgery

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Sick boy in a hospital bed with poor sleep health, which can contribute to post surgical pain.

Poor sleep health can affect children after surgery.

There are a number of things that your child goes through as they grow up. Many of these situations involve their health, requiring that they undergo pediatric surgery to remedy whatever ills them. However, what are the after effects of surgery on a child? One study published in The Journal of Pain hopes to find the answer. Researchers discovered that 20 percent of children experience persistent pain after surgery. What is more revealing is that poor sleep health may be the cause.

How Rest Helps the Body

Sleep is important for many reasons as it plays a crucial role in rejuvenating the body’s basic functions and your overall health. The more rest your body receives, the healthier your brain, emotional well-being, physical health, and quality of life will be. For example, sleep maintains a good balance of hormones, especially the ones that control hunger and your blood pressure. Poor sleep health can cause your body to suffer, leaving it at risk for issues like obesity, heart disease, or high blood pressure.

The CDC recommends that children, ages 3-5 years old, receive at least 10-13 hours a day. Meanwhile, older kids, ages 6-12 years old, should sleep for 9-12 hours a day. The CDC states that “Signs of poor sleep quality include not feeling rested even after getting enough sleep, repeatedly waking up during the night, and experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders (such as snoring or gasping for air). Improving sleep quality may be helped by better sleep habits or being diagnosed and treated for any sleep disorder you may have.” For more recommendations by the CDC, click here.

Evaluating Poor Sleep Health in Kids

Researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital studied 66 children who underwent major surgery. Over a four-month period, the researchers monitored the sleep patterns of the subjects. They wanted to access the relationship between sleep and pain, and see if poor sleep health is associated with greater pain after surgery. To some extents they were correct.

“Poor sleep quality predicted greater subsequent pain intensity the next day and our findings suggest that poor sleep quality may continue to influence the experience of post-surgical pain in children even four months after surgery,” said lead author Jennifer Rabbits, MB, ChB, Department of Anesthesiology at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

On average, most of the children returned to an adequate quality of sleep four months after surgery. However, looking at the children individually revealed the connect to sleep and pain. Rabbits and the rest of the study’s authors hope that this will show how important sleep quality is. If improve their sleeping habits after major surgery, it could aid in reducing post-surgical pain and recovery.

Aside to post-surgical recovery, good quality sleep has proven necessary in improving many other aspects of your health. Other studies have shown that sleep can stimulate your brain’s ability to learn and reduce stress. If you want your child to remain healthy, make sure their sleep schedule is consistent and they aren’t distracted by electronic devices during the night. This will help them stick to better sleeping habits and maintain their overall quality of life.

Students writing while their classmate is sleeping due to irregular sleep.

Irregular Sleep Leaves College Students at a Disadvantage

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Students writing while their classmate is sleeping due to irregular sleep.

Irregular sleep affects the grades of college students.

The pressures of college life can take a toll on our habits. Some students suffer through late nights in order to cram for tomorrow’s big test. Others are beholden to their class schedule, waking up and going to sleep at different times of the day. This kind of lifestyle leads to irregular sleep patterns, which some researchers are saying holds negative effects.

To understand the importance of our sleep patterns, we have to look at circadian rhythms. Our circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that react to your body’s natural internal clock. Effectively, these rhythms dictate several aspects of our body. Mainly, they change when we are ready to go to sleep and when we are most alert.

Normally, circadian rhythms regulate what time we wake up and go to sleep. This is based on the amount of light in our given environment. When the sun rises we wake up, and when it’s dark, our body is ready to go to sleep. However, after a thorough analysis of sleep patterns, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that a disruption of these rhythms affects the academic performance of students.

Factoring in Irregular Sleep

For this study, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital gathered 61 full-time undergraduates from Harvard College. The participants used sleep diaries to record their activities. The main factors the team was looking for include the following:

  • Sleep Regularity
  • Sleep Duration
  • Quality of Sleep
  • Sleep-Wake Times
  • Academic Performance

“Our results indicate that going to sleep and waking up at approximately the same time is as important as the number of hours one sleeps,” stated Andrew J. K. Phillips, Ph.D., biophysicist at the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and lead author on the paper. “Sleep regularity is a potentially important and modifiable factor independent from sleep duration,” Phillips said.

School Grades

“We found that the body clock was shifted nearly three hours later in students with irregular schedules as compared to those who slept at more consistent times each night, stated Charles A. Czeisler, Ph.D., MD, Director of the Sleep Health Institute at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and senior author on the paper.

“For the students whose sleep and wake times were inconsistent, classes and exams that were scheduled for 9 a.m. were, therefore, occurring at 6 am according to their body clock, at a time when performance is impaired. Ironically, they didn’t save any time because, in the end, they slept just as much as those on a more regular schedule,” continued Czeisler.

Too many changes to the circadian clock can disrupt the body. The process takes some time to adjust to the new schedule of students. As a reaction, the melatonin that your body needs to wake releases much later.

“Regular sleepers got significantly higher light levels during the daytime, and significantly lower light levels at night than irregular sleepers who slept more during daytime hours and less during nighttime hours.”

Researchers suggest that fixing irregular sleep requires that students are exposed to more natural light and avoid using electronic devices at night. They should also stick to a better schedule for when to go to bed and wake up.

One person smashing alarm clock in bed waking up smashing alarm clock due to insomnia condition.

Researchers Prove Insomnia Condition Is Genetic

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One person smashing alarm clock in bed waking up smashing alarm clock due to insomnia condition.

Is your insomnia condition keeping you up? You’ll be happy to know it’s not all in your head.

You lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling. Closing your eyes doesn’t help, nor can you get comfortable as you toss and turn to find the right position. You’ve finally come to the conclusion that you cannot fall asleep. These are the sure signs of someone with an insomnia condition.

Many cases of insomnia are considered psychological, as it is caused by stress. Other cases have shown that the disorder is associated with other conditions like chronic pain, heart failure, and hyperthyroidism. Unfortunately, scientists have had a hard time pinpointing what exactly causes insomnia.

A new study seems to unravel a bit of this mystery. Researchers, made up of an international team, discovered that insomnia isn’t purely psychological, as some have suggested in the past. The team discovered seven risk genes for insomnia in an in-depth study.

Proving the Insomnia Condition Is More

“As compared to the severity, prevalence and risks of insomnia, only few studies targeted its causes. Insomnia is all too often dismissed as being ‘all in your head’. Our research brings a new perspective. Insomnia is also in the genes,” says Professor Eus Van Someren, one of the lead researcher of this international project.

After testing 113,006 individuals, the team was able to find the seven genes related to insomnia. These genes are also involved in the process of transcription and exocytosis. One of the genes, MEIS1, is associated with other sleeping disorders like Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep (PLMS) and Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Using assistance from the Institute of Neurogenomics at the Helmholtz Zentrum, München, Germany, the team found that the genetic variants contribute to PLMS, RLS, and insomnia.

Emotional Disorders and Gender

Another interesting fact is that these genes are also connected to behavior conditions. Anxiety, depression, and neuroticism have long been associated with insomnia. Now it appears that they genes that are causing insomnia are contributing to these emotional disorders.

“This is an interesting finding, because these characteristics tend to go hand in hand with insomnia. We now know that this is partly due to the shared genetic basis,” says neuroscientist Anke Hammerschlag (VU), PhD student and first author of the study.

Another finding showed the difference between men and women with the condition. “We also found a difference between men and women in terms of prevalence: in the sample we studied, including mainly people older than fifty years, 33% of the women reported to suffer from insomnia. For men this was 24%,” states Professor Danielle Posthuma, another of the study’s lead researchers.

Hope for the Future

Professor Someren hopes that their study can inspire others to look more into the insomnia condition. Learning about the connection between the disease and these genes is important for developing new treatment methods. Hopefully, they begin to understand the disease better. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention linked insomnia to accidents and mistakes on the job and along the road.  Another study reports that 10 percent of adults in the U.S. have chronic insomnia. These people deal with the condition three times a week.

A man that needs better sleep.

Better Sleep Means More Brain Power

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A man that needs better sleep.

Better sleep can improve your learning efficiency.

As children, our parents always told to go to sleep early and that getting enough rest is good for the body. We know that sleep is good for the body, but have you ever wondered how? Does better sleep mean better benefits for the body? Well, deep sleep can help with heart health, your immune system, and so much more. One aspect of deep sleep, in particular, helps our learning efficiency. It is possible for this process to be interrupted. In a recent study by researchers at the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, they developed a non-invasive method for affecting deep sleep in humans.

Receiving Better Sleep Is Important

A lack of sleep does more than just make you sluggish and tired throughout the day. The nerve cells in our body, called synapses, remain active as we receive information from the environment around us. Once we go to sleep, those active synapses return to normal. However, if we do not receive proper rest, those nerve cells stay active and new information becomes harder to process. Sleep deprivation and other disorders impede your ability to retain new information. This malfunction in your ability to learn can affect how your mind operates.

How Researchers Manipulated the Brain

“We have developed a method that lets us reduce the sleep depth in a certain part of the brain and therefore prove the causal connection between deep sleep and learning efficiency,” says Reto Huber professor at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich and of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UZH.

The study tested several subjects, six women, and seven men. Each of the subjects performed tasks that required them to master three different motoric tasks through finger movements. Once each day ended, the subjects went to sleep. During the first night, they were allowed to sleep uninterrupted. However, after the second night, the experiment truly began. Unbeknownst to the patients, the researchers manipulated the motor cortex using acoustic stimulation.

The effect of the manipulation was not apparent at first. During the morning, the subject performed the motoric tasks and finger movements as usual. As the day went on, however, the subjects made more and more mistakes. This is a contrast compared to the first day of testing, where the patients performed positively. After receiving better sleep again, the subjects exhibited the same results as the first day.

Nicole Wenderoth, professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Technology at the ETH Zurich, explains that “In the strongly excited region of the brain, learning efficiency was saturated and could no longer be changed, which inhibited the learning of motor skills.”

What We Can Learn From This Study

This study is another example of why sleep health and deep sleep is necessary. Brain disorders could affect sleep the same way the researchers did. Huber explains that “Many diseases manifest in sleep as well, such as epilepsy. Using the new method, we hope to be able to manipulate those specific brain regions that are directly connected with the disease.”

Patient in deep sleep on a medical bed in hospital ward.

Deep Sleep: Staying Young While Your Old

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Patient in deep sleep on a medical bed in hospital ward.

Staying healthy as an older adult calls for deep sleep.

Growing older is always an adjustment as the human body’s needs tend to change. Also, the elderly is more susceptible to debilitating conditions, like wakefulness and the inability to sleep. It doesn’t matter what age you are. Sleep is always necessary. In fact, a recent study at the University of California – Berkeley found that deep sleep can fight off mental and physical ailments, keeping the body effectively younger.

Do Older Adults Need Sleep?

Teenagers and children require more sleep than adults. The CDC even recommends that adolescents should receive 8-10 hours and school-aged children should be getting 9 to 12 hours a night. For adults, 18 and older only, the CDC suggest 7 or more hours of sleep per night. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need it at all. Sleep is critical for anyone. When you put your sleep health in jeopardy, your body reacts accordingly.

What Happens When You Don’t Receive Enough Deep Sleep?

According to the researchers at UC Berkeley, quality sleep is important for the elderly. The scientists linked Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke in the elderly to a lack of sleep.

“Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” said the article’s senior author, Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”

Other studies show that poor sleep can cause older adults cognitive functions to weaken. Furthermore, adults start to experience inadequate sleep around their 30s. By the time these people age, their lack of sleep will affect their health more and more.

Why Natural Sleep Is Important

Modern medicine has come far, but it cannot replace natural sleep. The researchers at UC Berkeley state that pills used to aid sleep do not provide the same benefits as regular deep sleep. The brain needs deep sleep to replenish most of its functions.

It is hard for older adults to sleep naturally because of a change in their brain chemistry. The brain doesn’t produce the necessary waves that promote deep curative sleep. Also, the elderly receives less of the neurochemicals that grant us the ability to switch from sleep to wakefulness effectively.

“The parts of the brain deteriorating earliest are the same regions that give us deep sleep,” said article lead author Mander, a postdoctoral researcher in Walker’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at UC Berkeley.

“The American College of Physicians has acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first-line kneejerk response to sleep problems,” Walker said. “Sleeping pills sedate the brain, rather than help it sleep naturally. We must find better treatments for restoring healthy sleep in older adults, and that is now one of our dedicated research missions.”

Hopefully, the researchers and doctors looking into sleep can find a way to improve the quality sleep health in older adults. This research will help prevent cognitive issues and prevent developing diseases in the future.

A woman is suffering from a sleep disturbance.

Bone Formation at Risk Due to Prolonged Sleep Disturbance

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A woman is suffering from a sleep disturbance.

Sleep disturbance can weaken bone development.

It always seems like sleep escapes us, and when we don’t receive enough this can negatively affect our health. Sleep disturbance has long been associated with the development of harmful conditions. While a lack of sleep can seem like no big deal, depriving yourself of the proper amount will only make things worse. Some researchers are still discovering links between certain diseases and a lack of sleep. Recently, the University of Colorado found that prolonged sleep disturbance can lead to lower bone formation.

Bone Formation

Our bones are the structure of our body, giving us shape and supporting mobility. They also provide a variety of benefits that most are unaware of. For example, the bones produce blood that the body uses and they protect the internal organs from damage.

Like many other parts of the body, the bones replace old cells with new ones. Bone formation allows for the development of new and healthy bones. When this process in disturbed, the bones become weaker and more prone to damage. This condition is called osteoporosis.

Why Sleep Disturbance Is a Risk

Researchers at the University of Colorado tested 10 healthy men for three weeks. During that time, the subjects stayed at a lab to be monitored. In order to mimic sleep restriction, the men were tasked with sleeping four hours later than they did the previous day. They were also only allowed to sleep for 5.6 hours per 24-hour period.

Behavior like this is common for people who work late shifts or travel a lot. Odd work hours can force some to sleep at different times for short periods of time and people who travel are likely to suffer from jetlag. This sleep disturbance interferes with the circadian rhythms. This is our body internal clock, which tells us when we should sleep. The results of the study showed that after three weeks, all the men had significantly reduced levels of a bone formation marker called P1NP.

What Researchers Had to Say

“This altered bone balance creates a potential bone loss window that could lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures,” lead investigator Christine Swanson, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Aurora, Colo., said. Swanson completed the research while she was a fellow at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore., with Drs. Eric S. Orwoll and Steven A. Shea.

“If chronic sleep disturbance is identified as a new risk factor for osteoporosis, it could help explain why there is no clear cause for osteoporosis in the approximately 50 percent of the estimated 54 million Americans with low bone mass or osteoporosis,” Swanson said.

“These data suggest that sleep disruption may be most detrimental to bone metabolism earlier in life when bone growth and accrual are crucial for long-term skeletal health,” she said.

This study is a shining example of why people should try to get more sleep. The CDC believes sleep health is important and found that more than 25 percent of the U.S. population receives an inadequate amount of sleep. To find out how much sleep you need, visit the CDC’s sleep guidelines.

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