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Sleeping beauty

  •   by Medihelp
  •   16 November 2017
  •   1025 view(s)

You need to fix the leaking tap in the bathroom because the constant dripping is driving you crazy, your neighbour’s child is afraid of the dark and sleeps with the light on all night, and some airline has a 2:30 AM flight. You know all this because you are awake all night.

Most people will experience some difficulty sleeping from time to time. This can be caused by anything from a hormonal imbalance to trauma or stress. As soon as the problem is sorted, the person’s sleeping pattern returns to normal and all is well again.

If however the problem persists and your difficulty sleeping turns into insomnia, you will start suffering from the symptoms of sleep deprivation, which can seriously damage your health and well-being. It is possible to suffer from sleep deprivation even if you spend enough hours sleeping, because you’re not getting enough good sleep.

How many hours should a person sleep?
Infants need 14 to 15 hours of sleep per day, teenagers need about eight to 9,5 hours and adults require seven to nine hours’ sleep per day. Some people only need about six hours to wake up fully rested and alert while others need as many as 10 hours per day.

What is good sleep?
Sleep happens in stages and if you want the full benefit of your seven to nine hours’ sleep, you have to experience all the stages in the correct sequence to restore body and mind and leave you fully alert.

Stage one: This is a light stage of sleep and is considered to be the transition period between being awake and falling asleep. During this stage the brain produces theta waves, or very slow brain waves. Stage one lasts about five to 10 minutes.

Stage two: During stage two the brain starts producing “sleep spindles”, which are bursts of rapid, rhythmic brain waves. Your body temperature drops and your heart rate slows. This stage lasts for about 20 minutes.

Stage three: Your brain emits delta waves – deep, slow brain waves. People often refer to this stage as delta sleep. During this stage your responsiveness diminishes and environmental noises and movements do not generate a response from you. This stage is a transitional phase between light and deep sleep.

Stage four: This is when REM sleep or rapid eye movement sleep occurs. Your brain and restorative body systems and processes become active and your voluntary muscles relax. This stage is characterised by eye movements and an increased respiration rate. It is also the stage where dreaming occurs, because your brain is more active.

The sequence of sleep stages begins at stage one and progresses through stages two and three, after which stage two is repeated before the body moves into REM sleep or stage four. After REM sleep, the body returns to stage two, followed by another REM stage. This cycle is repeated four to five times throughout the night. Most people reach their first cycle of REM sleep about 90 minutes after falling asleep. The first cycle of REM sleep lasts only for a short while, but each subsequent cycle of REM sleep will become longer. REM sleep can last up to an hour.

If your body follows this pattern, you will feel well rested after a night’s sleep. If you don’t go through all the stages in the right sequence or you don’t sleep enough hours for a prolonged period of time, you will start experiencing the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

What are the most common symptoms of sleep deprivation?
  • Decreased performance and alertness: If you reduce your sleep by as little as one and a half hours for one night, it can reduce your alertness by as much as 32%. This can affect your judgment significantly, for example leading to you cause a serious car accident, make flawed decisions and make big mistakes at work.
  • Memory and cognitive impairment: Sleep deprivation impairs your ability to think and process information.
  • Relationship problems: If you frequently disrupt your partner’s sleep, it may cause relationship problems and conflict.
  • Health: Long-term sleep deprivation can cause a number of health problems, such as weight gain, hormonal imbalances, heart attacks, hypertension, strokes and psychiatric disorders.
  • Poor quality of life: If you are tired due to a lack of sleep, you will be unable to give the necessary attention to normal daily activities that make life worth wile such as having a meaningful conversation, seeing your child’s school play, or joining your friends for a night out.
  • Injury: If you’re frequently excessively sleepy during waking hours, you are at risk of seriously injuring yourself due to diminished alertness and poor judgment.

The good news is that once sleep deprivation is diagnosed and the underlying causes identified, most health conditions caused by it can be reversed. If you suspect that you are suffering from sleep deprivation, keep a sleep diary and note the following:
  • The number of hours you sleep every night.
  • The number of times you wake up during the night and the reason why you woke up, such as having to go to the bathroom, hunger or worry.
  • Problems experienced while falling asleep.
  • Activities, routine and eating habits.
  • Environmental factors such as extreme cold, pollution or noise.
  • Daytime symptoms such as drowsiness, feelings of depression and impaired judgment.

Keep a diary for two weeks, make an appointment with your doctor and take your diary with you. He/she will be able to identify possible health issues and order tests to make an accurate diagnosis or give you lifestyle advice, such as a change in diet.

Tips for a good night’s sleep
  • Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, including on weekends. This will teach your body a natural sleep rhythm.
  • Stop smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant and will keep you awake.
  • Do some cardio exercise every day, but don’t do any exercise for at least four hours before your bedtime to give your body temperature time to drop, which is necessary for good sleep.
  • Snack smart. If you frequently wake up hungry during the night, have a healthy snack about an hour before going to bed. Combine a complex carbohydrate with a protein to stabilise your blood sugar level. Healthy snack options include wholewheat crackers with low-fat cheese, a small banana with a teaspoon of peanut butter, and a small portion of fruit with low-fat yogurt.
  • Check your drinking habits. If you frequently wake up to go to the bathroom, set yourself a liquid curfew. Don’t drink anything in the two hours before your bedtime and go to the bathroom before you go to sleep.
  • Follow a calming sleep ritual. Spend 20 minutes before you go to bed preparing for the next day by packing your lunch, selecting your outfit and getting everything ready that you will need for the next day. Then take a warm bath or shower and switch off all electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops. If you’re tempted to check your phone frequently, put it out of reach and get an old-fashioned clock to wake you up in the morning.
  • Rig your bedroom. Make sure you have enough blankets, that the room is sufficiently ventilated and that it is completely dark when you close the curtains and switch off the light.

  • Don’t use your bedroom for activities such as working, watching TV or eating. Your brain will subconsciously associate the bedroom with activity instead of rest and you will have difficulty falling asleep.
  • Don’t get up when you wake up at night. Tell yourself that it is normal to wake up periodically and stay put until you fall asleep again.
  • Don’t use electronic devices in your bedroom. You will get distracted and before you know it, the night will be over and you would’ve missed important restoration time.
  • Don’t use alcohol or sleeping pills to fall asleep. Alcohol stimulates your body to wake up frequently and sleeping pills can become addictive. Use sleeping pills only when prescribed by your doctor and only for the period that he/she has prescribed.
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