It has been said that the average person spends a third of their life sleeping, but in this day and age, that sounds pretty generous. Between the stress of our daily lives and the need to do more in less time, the majority of us are lucky if we can say a quarter of our lives are dedicated to sleep. While we often get the impression that we can go without sleep, the truth is we need it. The nervous system requires it to function properly. If you sleep the average six to eight hours a night, roughly two of those hours are spent dreaming. To dream, we have to enter the stage of REM sleep. Scientists have discovered the regions of the brain active in learning are stimulated in REM sleep. This might explain why memory deficits or recall problems are common when we don’t get enough rest.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that 40 million Americans have difficulties with sleep. The majority of them do not report the problem to a doctor. Common signs of sleep deficiency including moodiness and memory lapses, which later culminates into apathy, reduced emotional response, slow speech patterns and loss of concentration. If the problem continues to go unaddressed, nodding off in the middle of key tasks (including driving) and hallucinations will follow.
Diseases such as hypertension, metabolic disorders (weight gain), diabetes and mood disorders are linked to sleep deficiency. It has also been noted that the immune system also weakens, increasing the likelihood of infection. In an attempt to sleep, people may be inclined to self-medicate which often leads to substance abuse. Therefore, if you experience sleep deficiency, it is important to discuss it with your physician.
One of the most common sleep disorders is insomnia, the inability to initiate sleep or stay asleep. Symptoms including having trouble falling asleep, waking up often and struggling to go back to sleep, waking up to early and feeling unrested. The prevailing attitude in medicine, up until recently, is that insomnia was a symptom of a greater problem. However, experts realize that insomnia can be the cause of problems as opposed to being a symptom. People who suffer from Primary Insomnia (sleep disturbance not related to any other medical condition) are anywhere from 2 to 10 times more likely to suffer from major depression and anxiety.
The problem does not only affect adults. A survey in 2003 showed 15 million children and teens are experiencing sleep disorders as well. It is suggested that sleep environment and routine can help establish a better sleep pattern. Everything from making sure you have a comfortable mattress to using sound machines to create soothing background noise is suggested. Cooler temperatures and darkness cue the brain to start producing melatonin, so make adjustments where you can.
Another common disorder is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is characterized by the disruption of air flow while sleeping. This could be the result of a neurological condition such as a stroke, or caused by weakness in the muscles that hold open the air passages in the respiratory system. The key concern is obstructed breathing results in decrease oxygen to the brain. People with apnea often feel they never get enough sleep and experience “brain fog”, referring to the inability to think clearly and make full use of your mental faculties. Mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety are correlated with sleep disorders. It also magnifies symptoms of schizophrenia and ADHD.
Sleep apnea is sometimes the result of alignment issues with the jaw or abnormal development of the soft palate or tongue. Certain dental professionals have treatments and surgical methods for correcting such matters. The Center for TMJ and Sleep Therapy in Burbank offers dental and orthodontic services that can help. They are located at 2701 W. Alameda Avenue #606, across the street from Providence/St. Joseph’s Hospital. You can contact them at (818) 238-9865 to make an appointment.