Wednesday, October 25, 2017

This One Thing Can Cause Sadness, Headaches, Forgetfulness and other Woes

As you may remember, I am on a quest to become more of a morning person, and less of a night owl.  I have been doing pretty good for the most part.  I am still experimenting with some things to see what works best for me (as in this is something that I can maintain over the long term).


My research led me to this study on interrupted sleep, and that led me to do even more research on the subject.

The study took two groups of people and over three nights.  The first group stayed up an hour later, and the second group's sleep was interrupted. They found that cutting their sleep by only one hour (from 7.5 hours to 6.5 hours) resulted in inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk, and stress for both groups. However, the Interrupted Sleepers had shorter periods of slow wave, or deep wave sleep than the delayed.

What's so important about the slow wave or deep sleep?  This is the stage that important body repairs and maintenance tasks get done.

Both groups reported declining positive feelings.  While the delayed sleepers bounced back with a full night's sleep, the interrupted sleepers continued to report declining positive feelings including a decline in friendliness and feelings of sympathy.  In other words, even after you get back to having a good restful night of sleep, if you had a couple of nights of interrupted sleep you may continue to have a crappy attitude or remain in a funk, and it may even worsen.  So, interrupted sleep is worse than staying up late to watch Jimmy Fallon. 


But wait, there is more. Waking up throughout the night also affects you in the following ways:

  • Your brain isn't as sharp.  How fast you think on your feet (your cognitive ability) and your attention span suffer as much as if you had barely slept at all.
  • You can't remember things and it is hard to learn new skills and make new memories.  Whatever you learned yesterday needs a chance to be committed to memory, and for that to happen you need a long stretch of sleep.
  • Your body can't detox.  Amyloid proteins get cleared away while we sleep.  Why is this important?  These proteins have been linked to Alzheimer's disease.  Brain imagery of people who regularly have nights of interrupted sleep; show a buildup of these proteins.
  • You become a grumpy grump.  A few times of being woken up during the night not only makes you cranky, it also increases your chances of developing depression.  
  • Headaches are also a symptom of sleep disorders, especially migraines.  While morning headaches are not proof of a sleep disorder, the frequency of migraines does decline when sleep disorders are cleared up.
A good night's sleep isn't just a nice to have, it is a must have.  People who regularly have their REM (rapid eye movement) sleep interrupted have remarkably similar electrical activity in their brain as those who suffer from depression.  Insufficient sleep increases your risk of your mental illness flaring up again.  

If that isn't enough to make you take this sleep thing seriously, The University of Michigan has found a strong correlation between insomnia and suicide.  Now, I know correlation does not equal causation, but if getting enough good quality sleep may help, isn't it worth a try?  Hello, teenagers, talking to you here.  Put down the phone, and pick up your pillow and blankie and go nightie night. (Since the odds of teens reading this is slim to none, parents, make those kids get to sleep.)

There is such a strong connection to sleep and depression that at Ryerson University, they have linked the two in treatment.  They combine talk therapy with sleep therapy to treat depression, and they saw 87% of their patients who resolved their insomnia also saw their depression symptoms resolve after about 8 weeks with and without also taking an anti-depressant.

Here is their sleep plan:
  1. Establish a regular wake-up time and stick to it.
  2. Get out of bed during wake periods.
  3. Avoid eating, reading, watching TV, or any similar activities in bed.  
  4. Eliminate day time napping
That's it.  The goal is to reserve the bed for only sleeping so like Pavlov's dog, when you see the bed you think sleep and nothing else. Also, they wanted to curb the anxiety around "working" to fall asleep.  If you wake up, no big deal, get out of bed and go read a book or something. Those that followed the plan, saw a sharp reduction in nighttime wakefulness. 

You may be a person who doesn't need a lot of sleep.  If you don't feel sleepy or tired the next day, then you are probably okay, and may be one of those rare people who do not need a lot of sleep.  However, everyone needs uninterrupted sleep.

I am not this person.  I was the person described above who had interrupted sleep.  For the past week my sleep had been interrupted and I (and everyone else in the house) was suffering because of it.  My husband normally gets up around 4 M (crazy, right?) so he can get to work extra early.  Well, during this week he decided to change his schedule and go in later.  He would still get up at 4:00, but after breakfast and watching the news, he would go back to bed, and he would wake me up every single time.  Once awake it took me forever to fall back asleep, and when I finally did, my alarm wold go off 15 minutes later.    

By the end of the week I was angry at everyone, sad for no apparent reason, and not feeling up to doing anything because it was all too much effort.  I spent 20 minutes frantically looking for my phone which I found, in my hand, and that isn't the only brain fart I experienced that week. I had a headache for three days straight.  I was convinced that I was in full blown menopause.  Well, then that thought depressed me even more.  Luckily I found this info before I started hormone replacement therapy.

So you can bet your bottom dollar that we made some changes.  If the hubs gets out of bed, then he can't come back. If he wants to go back to bed, then he has to utilize the couch or the guest bedroom. He was onboard with this plan.  Mostly because I hadn't been the most pleasant person to deal with that week, and if this would help he was all for it (and I may have threatened to smother him with a pillow while he was sleeping). I am also going to try the sleep plan listed above.  I can work on those four things.  Four is easy, right?  

So take a look at the things that are waking you up at night and make some changes.  Your health (and maybe the well being of those around you) depends on it.  

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