We have all been there: tossing and turning through the night, solving all of the world's problems except your own, and watching some digital clock tell you how close you are to having to get up and start the day physically wrecked. There are even times when I have had an epiphany about some problem that I have tried to solve, but mostly I watch the time pass by checking my iPhone periodically.
Many of us lead fast-paced lives. We have responsibilities at work, in the family, with friends, at church, in professional associations, at school, etc. Hours are long, but we push ourselves because we are goal oriented and deeply afraid of failure or missing a deadline. Stress management is something other people do who have more time on their hands than we do.
Does this sound familiar?
Forty million Americans have chronic sleep disorders, and about half that number have occasional sleep problems. This results in approximately 100,000 vehicle accidents, 1500 deaths, and 71,000 injuries each year. In fact, the Department of Transportation is about to impose sleep studies on truck drivers in an attempt to curb the accident rate.
Our bodies are designed around circadian rhythms. Scheduled processes in our bodies have to do with endocrine functions (hormone secretion) that keep our bodies in working order. Sleep is a part of this process.
One of the consequences of being sleep deprived is that your brain just does not work well. You may have problems thinking during the day because you are just plain tired. This will interfere with your work and compound your stress.
It is also true that in adequate amounts of sleep will help you gain weight. Over time, the combination of stress, interruption of those circadian rhythms, and sleep deprivation may well lead you down the road to obesity and all of the problems associated with it, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or cancer.
Studies have shown that long periods in front of the television, computer, or Internet produce sleep deprivation and children. They go to bed later, sleep fewer hours, and feel tired the next day. A Japanese study found that playing exciting games on a computer that flashes bright colors across the monitor during evening hours affects the secretion of melatonin, a substance secreted in the brain that regulates circadian rhythms, interfering with sleep.
What can you do? First, on weekends, try to go to bed at the same time you do on weeknights. This helps you to stay on some semblance of a schedule. If you exercise in the evening, give yourself at least three hours cool-down time before going to bed. Avoid brain stimulation, including work, balancing a checkbook, computer games, etc. for three hours before retiring.
Some people have a sleep ritual designed to enhance relaxation, such as a bubble bath. Music is a tool you may want to employee, as research tells us it helps children, older adults, and critically ill patients to rest.
Take a fresh look at your mattress. Is it comfortable? Does it sag? Do you awaken feeling like you have just played football? If so, come over to the clinic and check out our memory foam mattress. We will give you a sample nap.
Some of our patients report that they awaken with pain in the neck, back, or extremities. Nocturnal pain may be significant beyond the musculoskeletal system, so we should check that out with a good exam.
If you sleep with or near someone, find out if you snore. If you snore loudly and find yourself falling asleep in the daytime, you may have sleep apnea. It is a common problem, and a potentially serious one. We can do a sleep study for you if you have those issues.
We have used a mild muscle relaxer with our patients that may be helpful. It contains valerian, which will help you to relax and sleep more naturally without a hangover the next day. We have also supplemented with melatonin to help restore natural circadian rhythms.
I typically discuss sleeping posture with our patients as well. I strongly recommend sleeping on your side with a pillow that is firm and tall enough to keep your head level with the rest of your body. Additionally, I recommend that you get a body pillow and throw your upper knee and arm over it so that the weight of your extremities is taken off your spine. When you roll over, take the body pillow with you so that you are supported through the night. You may find that you are much better rested the next day.
If you are having issues getting enough rest, you may not actually realize it. You may only know that you just feel tired all the time. If you do, get it checked out to be sure it is not something more serious. We can help you address this problem to enhance your health and overall quality-of-life.