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How Well Do You Sleep?

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 1/22/2014

Sleep. Once thought of as an annoying, do-nothing, waste of time, scientists now understand that sleep provides the body with important time for restoration and regeneration. How well do you sleep? It’s an important question.

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    Types of Sleep Disorders

    Do you have trouble sleeping at night Sleep disorders are fairly common occurrences. Although there are as many as 70 known sleep disorders, the most common disorder is insomnia with as many as 60 million Americans affected. Forty percent of women and thirty percent of men suffer from insomnia.

    The second most common sleep disorder is sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the back of the throat is obstructed due to increased fat or loss of muscle tone. Once a person stops breathing, the blood oxygen level drops and the person wakes up enough to startle and begin breathing again.

    This cycle can occur hundreds of times each night. This results in a person getting sleep that is less than adequate. As many as 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. The best treatments are weight loss and breathing devices such as a CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure device.

    Restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy are two other common sleep disorders. With restless leg syndrome, a person feels unpleasant crawling sensations in the lower extremities making them feel the need to move their legs for relief. This disorder can run in families.

    Narcolepsy is a disorder where a person falls asleep during the day. The periods of sleep can last seconds to several minutes. This disorder is also hereditary, but can be caused by damage to the brain. Individuals are treated with stimulants.

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    The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

    One thing all sleep disorders have in common is sleep deprivation. People vary in their sleep needs, but most adults require 6-10 hours each night.

    Many scientists and even the hit show Mythbusters have done studies on the effects of sleep deprivation. Results reveal that being sleep deprived can have the same effect on you as if you were intoxicated. Sleep deprivation leads to as many as 100,000 vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths each year.

    Studies reveal sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, job accidents, medical errors, and chronic diseases. Cognitive functions decrease and memory is impaired when a person functions on less sleep. These warnings are important for people who do shift work because studies have shown an increase in accidents and errors during the night shifts. In fact, as one author pointed out, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear plant disasters, as well as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, were partly attributed to night shift errors.

    Long term sleep deprivation has side effects that are even more grave. High blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, psychiatric disorders such as depression and other mood disorders, mental impairment, and fetal and childhood growth retardation are all consequences seen with untreated sleep disorders. Millions of people with sleep disorders are undiagnosed.

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    Why Is Sleep So Important?

    Our brains are busy when we sleep. There are five stages of sleep and in each stage, a different part of the brain is active. The final stage is known as REM sleep, or rapid-eye movement. This is the stage of sleep where we dream.

    Numerous studies have been done to look at sleep and what the brain is doing. While the purpose behind sleep is still somewhat mysterious, scientists know sleep is involved with growing, learning and repairing damage done to our bodies during our waking hours. We need to sleep to be able to properly store newly learned tasks and information.

    All of this boils down to the fact that sleep is not simply time for the body to be idle. We need sleep in all of its stages. When our sleep is disrupted or inadequate due to a sleep disorder, our bodies pay a price for this. An occasional bout of insomnia is normal, but any prolonged sleep problem should be looked into by a physician.

    Sleep well, everyone.

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