An 11 year study just published by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology may be the first study to prove a relationship between getting enough sleep and having a heart attack. Over 50,000 adults were followed over 11 years. Those that reported insomnia symptoms showed a 27 – 45% increase in heart attack incidence during that time. (the worse the insomnia, the higher the incidence of heart attack) Norwegian researcher Dr. Lars (how did I know his name was Lars?) Laugsand says the study needs confirmation, but it’s a good first step in identifying another possible risk factor for heart disease.
43%-51% of Americans polled in 2010 aged 13 – 45 said they rarely get a good night’s sleep. That’s too high.
Insomnia has become more common today because of the “so much to do and so little time” lifestyle many of us have adopted. It is often overlooked when people ask the question, “Why do I feel like crap all the time?”
Why should I sleep?
Contrary to what some think, sleeping isn’t a form of your body and brain “turning off” or “resting”. Your brain remains active during this time, but chemical reactions and processes that occur during sleep allow the brain to “reorganize” and “repair”. Growth hormone is manufactured and secreted during sleep which is one of the reasons why infants and children sleep more than adults. What you learned during the day becomes etched into your memory at night.
Your brain undergoes a series of cycles during sleep. You must reach all stages of this cycle 4-5 times during the night to get “healthful” sleep time. Disturbed or interrupted sleep does not seem to count. You may be in the bed for 8 hours with your eyes closed, but if you don’t reach the proper cycles, it’s as if you weren’t sleeping at all.
Image taken from sleepforkids.org
Poor sleep, or dozing, is just as bad for you as no sleep.
Do I have insomnia?
There are different ranges and causes for insomnia. If you have trouble falling asleep (it takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep) or staying asleep for more than 3 night/week for over a month, that is termed as chronic insomnia. Sometimes there is a specific problem associated with the sleeplessness that causes a problem for just a short period of time such as if your dog died or you lost your job. That would be called acute insomnia. Once the problem is dealt with, the sleep returns.
Interestingly, more than 8 out of 10 people laying awake have secondary insomnia. That is, their insomnia occurs because of some specific reason like medical conditions, eating patterns or habits, or sleep apnea. If you can find the reason, you can treat the cause and the sleep will correct itself. For example, if you always have 2 cups of coffee before bedtime,……you get the idea.
If you have sleep apnea , you may not even know that you aren’t sleeping well. With sleep apnea, you seem to be sleeping, but during sleep, you stop breathing momentarily. This causes the brain to switch to survival mode to force you to breath. Because of this process, the brain never gets to go into that deep cycle of sleep. Sleep apnea can be very dangerous and sometimes requires a device that delivers forced oxygen via a mask into your lungs while you sleep. Loud snoring can sometimes indicate sleep apnea. This often occurs in overweight people but can occur in anyone. Sleep apnea can only be properly diagnosed with a sleep study. (you are monitored during sleep at a lab)
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is another cause of poor sleep. You may have this and not even know it.
For the other near 20% of those suffering from insomnia, the sleeplessness is the primary problem and is its own disorder and can be treated with establishing lifestyle changes, behavioral cognitive therapy, or medications and/or supplements. If you are among this crowd it’s important to get help from your doctor or naturopath.
What’s the worst that can happen?Adults (approximately age 21 and up) need 7-9 hours of sleep a night to be healthy. I know some of you are saying, “it will never happen”. It’s hard to carve out enough time for sleep when there is so much going on with jobs, school, and families, but the quality (and quantity, according to this new study) of your life depends on it. If you don’t get enough, it will lead to:
Greater than 80% of people who can’t sleep probably could if they made some changes.
Want to catch your ZZZs? Here are some tips and myths:
10 Common Sleep Myths:
1. Watching TV is a good way to fall asleep. It’s the worst way. Your brain reacts to light and dark by secreting substances which make us drowsy. When your brain sees light (TV, computer, cell phone even) it causes a reaction in the pinneal gland to stop making melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps us get tired and sleep. You need dark to start the melatonin flowing. Turn off the damn cell phone, too!
2. Having a glass of wine before bed relaxes me. You may feel relaxed, but alcohol blocks the ability of your brain to cycle through the stages of sleep causing lack of sleep symptoms. You can fall asleep, but your sleep is flawed. Have a glass of wine with dinner instead.
3. You can always “catch up” on your sleep if you don’t get enough. That may sometimes work for the following day’s sleep, but you can’t sleep on Sunday for all the sleep you’ve missed during the week.
4. If you wake up in the middle of the night, try counting sheep. This has actually ben studied and it was found that counting sheep makes people more stressed out and anxious and actually delayed them falling back to sleep. If you wake up in the night and can’t go back after lying there for 15 minutes, get out of bed and engage in a relaxing activity like listening to music or a boring radio talk show. Try to avoid light exposure and looking at the clock. Return to bed when you start to feel sleepy.
5. The older you get, the less sleep you need. 7-9 hours is the requirement for all adults. Sleep patterns may change, (taking naps, waking during the night) but the requirements remain the same.
6. I don’t have insomnia because I fall asleep easily. If you fall asleep easily, but get up in the middle of the night or if you wake up very early (between 3 -6 am) every morning (and it’s not because your alarm went off) and this happens 3x/week you have insomnia.
7. Sleeping pills are addictive Addictive may not be the right word. Your body can become “used to” having that medication every night to fall asleep, or you may just become lax and don’t want to do all the things listed in the tips section above. You may also think “I will never be able to sleep without this pill” but if you try, you can.
Sleeping pills work by relaxing us (most insomniacs note anxiety as a reason for their insomnia) and by causing amnesia . We don’t remember waking up during the night, so we feel like we had a good night’s sleep. Some of the newer pills (ambien lunesta etc) even have had some odd sleepwalking cases…people eating and driving and not being able to remember it.A piece by Harvard Science states that non-drug therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy or relaxation techniques actually work better than sleeping pills. There are some great tapes using guided imagery and other techniques. Here’s one that I found helpful at times.
8. Melatonin is natural so it’s safe to take for sleep. Any supplement you take can have unhealthy effects. Your body produces this hormone, melatonin, from the amino acid triptophan (found in certain foods…yes turkey is one). Melatonin is a hormone, just like estrogen and thyroxin. There are a long list of side effects that go along with any hormone supplement. Women who are or want to become pregnant should not take it. It may cause blood pressure drops, mood changes, and many others. See a complete list here .
9. Cramming for a test is a good way to study . Maybe I’m writing this so my college student will read it, but in any case, the practice of staying up all night to study does not work . Learning takes place while we sleep. In order to “learn” we have to transfer memories from short term to longterm memory. This only happens when out brain reorganizes things during true restful REM sleep.
10. If I am tired at 3 pm, I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Actually, your body has a normal rhythm called a “circadian rhythm”. The human body is programmed to sleep between midnight and 7am and then again between 1-3 pm. (hence the term siesta) It is normal for you to feel tired during this afternoon time. A short brisk walk, or drinking fluids (not just caffeine) can help to wake you up.
Sleep is important! Get yours tonight!
Interesting sleep fact: A whale only sleeps 1 1/2 hours per day and its brain sleeps in shifts: the right side of the brain sleeps for 1 1/2 hours, then the left.