Medical Issues, Mental Health, Therapy, Toolkit

Sleep Deprivation

I was planning to make this video two weeks ago, but no joke, I was so tired that I took a weekend off to catch up. How’s that for ironic? The good news is I did catch up, and here I am to talk about this topic that affects nearly everyone from time to time – not getting enough sleep.

We have a new puppy in our house who is still in the crazy puppy stage, and our other dog had routine surgery. I think we had about 3 nights where neither of us got more than a couple hours sleep. I felt exhausted, sore, couldn’t think as clearly as usual, had no appetite, and finally caught a cold.  Maybe when I was 20 this would not have been much of a problem. Even at 30 when my daughter was born, sleepless nights were not a big deal. Nowadays, I need to catch it and get my sleep cycle back on track to function my best. I find that to be true for my therapy clients as well.

People who come to see me for counseling sometimes must think I am a broken record, but I do ask about sleep patterns during most sessions.  I want to know how they are sleeping, if they have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or they are sleeping too much – especially if they wake up unrefreshed. More often than not, there IS a sleep problem – most often not enough.

How much sleep is enough?

The standard answer to this is eight hours of sleep for adults. This can vary from person to person. What seems to be most important, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is Rapid Eye Movement, or REM, sleep. REM sleep starts about 90 minutes into a sleep cycle and generates the most active dream states. This period helps the brain sort through experiences of the day and neurologists have identified this stage as a period of reorganization of your brain cells.

One reason this matters to us is that being deprived of this necessary period of rest and repair can lead to psychological and physiological problems. A study conducted by the University of Berkeley showed that a severely sleep-deprived brain shows deficits in decision making, appropriate thought patterns, and can even result in psychosis. Not getting enough sleep has also been linked by the CDC to obesity and depression.

There are some mental health conditions that seem to always include disturbed sleep. I have rarely seen someone for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example, who did not have problems sleeping. People experiencing anxiety also will usually report problems either falling or staying asleep. It’s surprising to me how many of us report regular bouts of insomnia, or feel they are always running on a sleep deficit.

Here are some common sense ideas for getting a good night’s sleep:

Substances like alcohol, caffeine, or sugar can make it much harder to sleep. If you can’t cut these out of your diet entirely, try not to ingest them after dinnertime. The half life of caffeine is seven and a half hours. That’s plenty of time to keep you awake long after you drink it.

Speaking of dinner, going to bed on a full stomach can interfere with sleep. The same is true for intense exercise. Allow your body to wind down as you approach bedtime, and see if this improves your sleep patterns.

Make your environment as conducive to sleep as possible. Keep your room cool, dark, and ventilated. If you find yourself tossing and turning, don’t lie in bed and fight it – get up and find a calming, quiet activity until you are ready to fall asleep.

If you are a female over the age of 35, symptoms of perimenopause can begin to interrupt your sleep. Both sexes can experience things like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea, which can prevent the needed amount of REM sleep. For all of the above, I strongly recommend you see your health care practitioner to talk about your symptoms and see what might help. There are a number of non-prescription methods to improve sleep, so if you are worried you will just be given a bottle of sleeping pills, chances are your practitioner has a number of alternatives to try first.

Many people report difficulty sleeping. I hope these ideas were helpful in getting you closer to a good night’s sleep. I welcome your comments below on anything that has worked well for you. Thank you for reading!

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