SLEEP CONDITIONS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM

There are many symptoms that you can be experiencing in relation to your sleep. Most of them can be fairly self explanatory but let’s just define some of the conditions associated with those symptoms. Once you can correctly identify what’s going on with your sleep then you work out what to do about it.

Insomnia is first on the list; this is when you have trouble getting to sleep also called sleep onset. When you go to bed, lay your head down on the pillow and close your eyes, it should only take 10-20 minutes to fall asleep. Insomnia can also be described as; once you get to sleep you have trouble staying asleep. So waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or because of the kids, then it takes longer than 20 minutes to go back to sleep.

Usually trouble getting to sleep is from an overstimulated mind. Think use of screens before bed, daytime stressors, anxiety, medications, or other drugs like caffeine. The spiral issue with insomnia is that once you have one bad night’s sleep, the fear and worry behind having another bad night and missing out on your recommended 8 hours, can be the trigger for the next night. Managing stress, anxiety and being mindful about your sleep hygiene everyday is the key to managing insomnia.

Snoring, it is so common, but no one ever thinks about it as its own sleep condition. Snoring is what happens when there is partial closure of the airway; reducing the flow of breath from the mouth or nose into the lungs. It’s loud and unpleasant, and can lead to some very annoyed family members. People often describe the snoring as worsening after drinking alcohol, this is because it relaxes the muscles in the throat causing the restricted airway. There are many off the shelf mouth devices designed to help reduce snoring but if you are a really heavy snorer then best to speak to your GP about an overnight sleep study.

Obstructive sleep apnea is complete closure of your airways so you lose control over your ability to breathe. Apneas often go hand-in-hand with heavy snoring and are usually picked up by family members witnessing the lack of breathing. Other symptoms of sleep apnea can include waking up gasping for air, waking up the morning after sleep with a headache or raised blood pressure. Treatment for sleep apnea is to use a continuous positive air pressure device, this creates an air splint to keep the muscles of the airway open. If you think you may have sleep apnea then best to speak to your GP about an overnight sleep study, test for snoring and sleep apnea at the same time. Win. Win. As snoring and sleep apnea are respiratory conditions as well as sleep conditions, nasal breathing exercise and techniques can be very effective for improving lung capacity.

The last condition I’m going to talk about is Restless Legs Syndrome. It’s described as an uncomfortable pain in the lower limbs which is worse at night. Everyone describes the uncomfortable feeling differently like pins and needles, tightness, pulling. A strong urge to move the limbs is often required, making it difficult to sleep and leaving you feeling fatigued and irritable. Muscular support such as massage, stretches, gentle exercise and warm baths can help relieve tension. Poor diet and nutritional deficiencies can be underlying factors for restless legs syndrome. Consider increasing your mineral intake in your diet or supplementing with magnesium.

Theses are just a few conditions to get you thinking about what your sleep might be telling you. Sleep affects all our different body systems, the conditions above describe how the nervous system, respiratory system and the musculoskeletal system can all be involved in a bad night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene is just one piece of the puzzle.

SLEEP HEALTH SOME BASICS

Let’s first discuss the sleep-wake cycle before we move into basic sleep health. Sleep can be broken down into stages and we cycle through each stage when we go to bed.  

Stage 1 is light sleep; this is when we can be easily woken, often referred to as the dozing off stage. Stage 2 is where our bodily functions begin to slow down, like our heart rate, breathing, and brain waves. In stage 2 our core body temperature also drops. The 3rd and 4th stages are extensions of each other. 

Stage 3 & 4 is the NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) stage where the body enters deep sleep and the muscles and tissue begin to recover and repair. The immune system is activated and on a cellular level begins to modulate immune defence against infecting pathogens. The NREM sleep stage is fundamental for brain growth and development, cognitive function, memory consolidation, creativity, problem solving and emotional regulation.

Stage 5 is REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) this is further deepening of the subconscious where we enter dream states. The brain is very active and continues processing information from stages 3 & 4 but in stage 5 the body is immobilized and the eyes rapidly move. 

Part of the sleep-wake cycle is circadian rhythm function. Circadian rhythm is a biological clock-like process controlled in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus part of the brain that sends messages to our body systems, telling us when it is time to sleep and time to wake up. Circadian rhythm changes are governed by multiple factors such as darkness, brightness, environment, genetics, hormones, and medications. An example of this is when our body temperature drops in the evening bringing on a feeling of tiredness and raises again in the morning to promote wakefulness. 

So with the sleep cycle explained here’s a few basic dietary and lifestyle interventions you can make to help support the natural rhythm of your sleep-wake cycle.

  • Listen to your body – if you are dozing off in the lounge chair it’s past your bedtime. If you are regularly needing to take naps during the day then you more than likely are not getting enough NREM and REM sleep. If you are waking up just before your alarm in the morning then you know you have had the right sleep duration. By listening to your own body signals you can determine the natural rhythm of your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Avoid caffeine 6 hours before your bedtime – caffeine disrupts the time your circadian rhythm signals kick in and, like most stimulating drugs takes time to eliminate from the body. It can remain in the body from 3-5 hours after ingestion. You may find caffeine doesn’t effect your ability to get to sleep, but it can prevent the body from reaching the deep sleep stages
  • Avoid blue light from electronic devices and fluorescent lights – power down technology 1-2 hours before bed and opt for dim warm light from lamps. Signals from the optic nerve can dictate the timing of circadian rhythms. Blue light has been shown to stimulate wakefulness, while low warm light signals darkness and sleepiness. Exposure to electronic devices and blue light can interfere with the amount of time the body spends in NREM and REM sleep
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re having issues with your sleep – talk to someone about it, seek professional advice. Sleep health is important to so many modalities of allopathic and complementary medicine. Pain, anxiety, dental problems, respiratory conditions, poor nutrition, and work lifestyle can all be reasons behind a bad night’s sleep. There are so many solutions to a variety of sleep concerns whether it is tea, ear plugs, snoring aids, dental appliances, herbal tonics, nutritional supplements, or meditation, they are there for your use and I encourage you to speak up if you would like to know more.