There is not anyone among us who has not had an issue with sleep. Sleep is one of those things that almost every breathing organism needs. However, satisfactory sleep can be an elusive experience for many. There is envy for those who can sleep fall asleep quickly and stay asleep. People brag about not needing a lot of sleep. This day in age higher status given to those who say they only need four hours of sleep or they are too busy to even consider going to bed at a decent hour. We all know they are just binge watching Game of Thrones. There is no honor in workaholism and dismissing the need for rest. Finally, there are those who wake up at 5 am to do boot camp. What is up with that?
Sleep is required to restore muscle tissues, consolidate memories, regulate mood, strengthen neural connections, and restock neurotransmitters. Although people can meet the basic demands of the day with around 5 hours of sleep, it does not mean they are functioning to their highest potential.
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to mental illness, and 60% of people with insomnia have depression. However, medication and lifestyle changes can combat insomnia. Anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications work by providing a calming effect that may induce sleepiness. Drugs like benzodiazepines help people stay asleep longer (very addictive drug), and melatonin has been found to be useful for circadian rhythm disorders (sleep does not occur at a routine or normal time). The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements like melatonin so getting a physician's opinion is important
Sleep tests like the polysomnograph can help identify your sleep cycles and determine what may be contributing to sleep difficulties. Some common symptoms physicians look out for are excessive limb movements, sleepwalking, sleep talking, and oxygen restriction. Patients are recommended to complete a sleep diary to record bedtime, food intake, mood, and exercise. Identifying behavior patterns and changing them may improve sleep dramatically.
A sleep study may be a good idea if you wake up often moody and unrestored. The study can determine if sleep apnea is the problem. Check your insurance as this is a medical condition and may be partially covered under your plan.
There are also sleep disorders caused by physical problems like restless legs. Restless legs syndrome is characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs and irresistible urges to move the legs that prevent sleep. Treatment recommendations include avoiding caffeine, taking a hot bath before bed, getting massages have been shown to reduce symptoms. Taking supplements of iron, magnesium, and folate can also relieve limb movements and leg cramps. It is advisable to exercise earlier in the day to promote easier "winding down' in the evening.
Lastly, research has shown that life style changes will help improve sleep. Avoid naps during the day and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and exercise late in the day. Alcohol is an initial depressant (sleep aid) but causes frequent awakenings. Reducing screen time can help the brain believe it is time for sleep. Don't check email in bed or spend a significant amount of time in bed vegging out.
There are many options for testing and treatment for sleep deprivation, insomnia, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Talk with your physician and do some lifestyle changes on your own.