In this modern day, so many things demand for our time such that time to rest does not fit into our schedule even to the extent that we sacrifice sleep. As a young medical student several years ago, I felt sleep was meant for students who wanted to do extra years in school. I thought that the function of sleep was not known hence I tried to ‘murder’ sleep with the use of caffeine and kolanut. I was soon to learn that the effects of deprivation of sleep was well known and documented in literature. I learnt that those who sleep adequately are able to better focus, think and possess better reasoning abilities than those just getting by on few inadequate hours of sleep. It is well documented that adequate sleep is vital for a healthy physical and mental well-being.
The US Office of Communications and Public Liaison, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in 2017 described sleep as a naturally recurring state of mind and body, characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles, and reduced interactions with surroundings. During sleep the ability to react to stimulation is highly decreased more than the awake state but still higher than when one is in coma. Sleep has two phases: REM- Rapid Eye Movement sleep whereby we tend to dream and Non-rem sleep. A good night sleep consists of four to five cycles of REM and Non-rem sleep.
The body does not shut down during sleep but the body systems are at work. During sleep, the body is in anabolic or building state whereby repair, restoration of the various systems of the human body occur. During sleep there is reduced rate of body metabolism which enables the restoration of the systems. The body is able to faster and better eliminate oxidative wastes that has been generated by the body in the awake state most especially in the brain that can lead to improved cognitive functioning. Hormones that build the body such as growth hormone are secreted more during sleep.
So many factors interact to keep one in the awake state or to encourage sleep. The human hormone melatonin is released when it is dark and this home causes drowsiness and tells the human body to sleep. While light reaching the eyes instructs certain areas of the brain to keep awake. Artificial light, diet and nutrition have been found to play major roles in sleep. Diet rich in carbohydrate encourages early onset of sleep and promotes longer duration of sleep. A balanced diet with a mix of fruits, whole grains, vegetables and low saturated fat are vital to improving sleep quality.
Though adequate sleep duration varies based on age but an adult ideally should sleep for seven to eight hours per night, babies sleep for 16 hours per day while young children and adolescents should get between nine to ten sleep hours per night.
Sleep deprivation can lead to poor wound healing and can also impair the immune function. More accidents, poor attention span, less productivity occur in people who get by with inadequate sleep. Lack of sleep increases the risk of heart disease, infections, obesity and related complications.
There are people that suffer from sleep disorders that include dyssomnias (insomnia, hypersomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea), parasomnias (sleep walking), bruxism and circadian rhythm sleep disorders. More popularly known sleep problems are insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, snoring, sleep walking, sleep talking and sleep deprivation.
Sleep disorders may occur for various reasons. The common reasons includes psychiatric illness, chronic illness, stress, menopause and pregnancy. Psychiatric illness like depression is often closely related to sleep disorders and chronic illness like Alzheimer’s disease can cause sleep disorders. In menopause, hormonal changes can lead to hot flushes and undue sweating which can alter sleep pattern.
To make a diagnosis of any sleep disorder usually involves doing a sleep study and one is required to spend a night in a center where sleep pattern can be observed. Also, a log book indicating sleep pattern over several days maybe requested to be kept by a doctor before special test can be done to verify condition.
Most sleep disorders are readily and effectively treatable only after an appropriate diagnosis has been made. Sleeping pills are highly beneficial in the short term but most treatments are tailored to the cause and are patient centered. Treatment options available includes behavioural therapy, drug treatment and surgical interventions.
Sleep is an important element for a balanced lifestyle but often deemphasized in most cosmopolitan societies. There are over 100 different sleep disorders that has been documented in research and so many people live with sleep disorders that affect their quality of life. It is important to schedule a hospital visit and plan a treatment modality with a physician in order to make each day fulfilling and each night sleep a good one.