When you’re ill, or something’s bugging your mind, or you need to resolve some interpersonal conflicts, a caring friend or loved one would advise you to “sleep it off”, and when you wake up from a good night’s slumber, you almost always feel better, refreshed, a bit more cheerful, and ready to face your issues and resolve them.
But what if you haven’t been able to sleep things off? What if, in the morning, you’re grumpier, crankier, more depressed, and feel physically worse off than yesterday? Chances are, you didn’t get those forty winks you so needed. Now, imagine that this sleepless episode repeats itself over the course of a week, two weeks, or a month.
Welcome to this garish nightmare called insomnia. Insomnia, or chronic insomnia, technically speaking, is habitual sleeplessness; the failure to get enough sleep on most nights over a one-month period. It affects at least 30 percent of healthy seniors. When you are unable to go to sleep when you first go to bed, or wake up during the night and are unable to go back to sleep (in the vernacular, “hindi na mahuli ang tulog”), then you might be suffering from insomnia.
Insomnia will hit us one time or another during our lifetime. It has many causes, chief of which can be an underlying serious illness, psychological distress, anxiety, or stress. Insomnia that is temporary usually won’t have lasting ill effects on the individual. However, it is chronic insomnia that you should be truly wary of. Aside from it being a likely symptom of another serious physical, mental, or psychological condition, chronic sleep disorders can themselves lead to life threatening physical and mental conditions.
About half of insomnia cases can be attributed to depression and psychological disorders such as anxiety, stress, or grief, and to a wide variety of physical causes, including arthritis, asthma, breathing problems, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, indigestion, kidney or heart disease, muscle aches, and Parkinson’s disease.
The intake of various beverages and drugs can also cause insomnia. Caffeine, many antidepressants, the antiseizure medication phenytoin, most appetite suppressants, beta-blockers (medications used for high blood pressure and heart ailments, the decongestant pseudoephedrine (found in many cold and allergy remedies), and thyroid hormone replacement drugs, can also lead to insomnia.
The lack of nutrients calcium and magnesium can cause an individual to wake up after a few hours and not be able to return to sleep. Systemic disorders involving the brain, digestive system, endocrine system, heart, kidneys, liver, lungs and pancreas all may affect sleep. Poor nutritional habits and a sedentary lifestyle can also disrupt sleep.
Chronic sleeping disorders, or sleep deprivation lasting more than three days, can result in serious deterioration in overall performance and can even result in mild personality changes. Lack of sleep has also been known to cause premature aging (indeed, we do look older when we’re puyat).
Women who suffer from copper and iron deficiencies, observes research psychologist Dr. James Penland, are at a higher risk of suffering from insomnia and certain sleep disorders. A hair analysis can reveal if you are iron deficient.
Waking up 200 times a night
Of special concern is sleep apnea, which, in the United States alone, affects about 20 million Americans. Sleep apnea is commonly associated with snoring and extremely irregular breathing throughout the night. In sleep apnea, breathing actually stops for as long as two minutes at a time while the individual is asleep.. When breathing stops, the level of oxygen in the blood drops, resulting in oxygen deprivation, The individual then awakens, startled and gasping. A person with sleep apnea may awaken as many as 200 times throughout the night, with him or her not even remembering these awakenings.
Aside from disrupting normal sleep and causing extreme sleepiness during the day, sleep apnea is associated with more serious health problems. People who have sleep apnea tend to have higher than normal blood pressure and are more likely to have strokes than the general population. They also face an increased risk of heart disease, and also seem to have a higher-than-normal incidence of emotional and psychotic disorders. Experts attribute this to what they call a “dream deficit”—a lack of adequate rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep in which dreaming occurs. A person with sleep apnea often cannot settle into REM sleep for even the eight to 12 seconds it takes to have a normal, healthy dream.
And it has been scientifically accepted that a person who doesn’t dream isn’t in a proper state of mind.