When Sleep Becomes a Struggle by Dr. Kaycee Reyes
On why you can’t sleep

They say that you can do more with less sleep. That is why some, or most of us even, stay up late or wake up extra early to meet deadlines, catch up, or get ahead on our tasks. But did you know that sleep is more important than food? And running on little or less than adequate sleep more than takes a toll on our health. It also decreases our performance and productivity?

There are many reasons people lose sleep, have difficulty sleeping, or are not having quality sleep. If it happens rarely, it is usually normal. Maybe you have experienced it with jet lag (circadian rhythm disruption), when you are stressed, whenever you have overslept during the day, you ate a heavy meal or had caffeine near bedtime, or when you experience pain.

More serious causes of sleeping problems, however, may be when it becomes a side effect for taking medications, when you have an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, heartburn or digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems or allergies, neurological disorders, and mental health problems and mood disorders. Symptoms of sleeping problems include persistent fatigue during waking hours, irregularly breathing or snoring when asleep, difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability and mood swings, and lack of concentration. If these symptoms happen more often, it may be one of these sleeping disorders:

• Insomnia. It is a common sleeping disorder that means a person has difficulty to sleep, stay asleep, or may cause you to wake up earlier and fail to fall asleep again. Causes may be from jet lag, stress, poor sleeping habits, eating too close at bedtime, or a medical condition such as digestive problems or mental disorders. It can be a debilitating disease that affects your health and your quality of life if not treated. According to Stanford Health Care, insomnia that may be classified by duration, from transient, that may be present for less than a month; short-term, that goes on from one to six months; and chronic, that persists for more than six months. It may also be classified as primary, when the condition is not caused by another disease; and co-morbid, when the insomnia is present simultaneously with another disease, whether it is caused by the other disease or not. Insomnia is diagnosed by performing a sleep study on the patient, or asking for his/her sleep history. The physician may also ask the patient to log his sleep schedule in a journal to track his sleep patterns. Treatment for insomnia can be through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (to change your behaviors that may affect how you sleep), lifestyle changes, medication, and complementary medicines that include sleep-inducing dietary supplements.

• Sleep Apnea. It is a sleep disorder in which breathing problems occur during sleep. If you snore during sleep, are irritable, have headaches, or feel tired the next morning, it is possible you have this condition. The types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) that occurs when throat tissues relax that can block the airway during sleep; central sleep apnea (CSA) that happens when your brain does not send signals for the person to breathe during sleep; and complex sleep apnea syndrome that occurs when the patient has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. A physician usually conducts a sleep study or a sleep endoscopy to diagnose sleep apnea. Treatments for sleep apnea include positive airway pressure (PAP), wherein the patient wears a mask to aid his breathing during sleep; surgery (for OSA patients) to improve breathing; other non-surgical treatments aside from PAP are lifestyle modifications (losing weight, exercise), nasal resistors, and such.

• Parasomnia. These are sleep disorders that are caused by abnormal sleeping behavior, such as sleepwalking, nightmares, teeth grinding, sleep paralysis, sleep terrors, and others. There are various treatment options for these, depending on the condition from medication, meditation, to lifestyle changes.

• Narcolepsy. It is a neurological sleep disorder that makes the person experience excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), becoming weak or losing muscle control when experiencing a strong emotion (cataplexy), or falling asleep at certain times of the day. Narcolepsy is diagnosed as symptoms appear, but may also be tested via a polysomnogram (recording brain waves, nerves, etc. while sleeping) and the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT), where the patient is tested on how fast he sleeps and how soon he reaches REM, as patients with narcolepsy falls asleep fast and experiences REM earlier than normal. Treatments include a combination of behavioral changes (adjusting sleep schedules) and medication.

The immediate effects of not getting a good night’s rest are minimal to almost non-existent, that is why most of us tend to trade sleep with work and activity. This may be why not everyone with sleeping problems seeks professional help, until it is too late. In truth, the effects of poor sleeping habits and poor sleep quality are gradual yet damaging to our health. If you are experiencing symptoms indicated above, contact your physician immediately. Better yet, practice a healthy lifestyle, and that includes good sleeping habits. Your body is your most valuable asset, and no amount of work, performance, and productivity can replace good health.

This article was originally posted on Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.

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