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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Here’s what sleeplessness does to your brain

Insomnia and part of the body

For many people, having sound and refreshing sleep at night is a mirage. They may go to bed and drift to sleep almost immediately, but they soon wake up a few hours later. And they may remain awake for the rest of the night, especially at a time when a ‘normal’ person should be enjoying a deep sleep.
For some people, no matter how tired they are, sleep still eludes them, and they may need all the tricks in the book — including taking sleep-inducing drugs — to be able to sleep. Yet, it goes without saying that being able to sleep well is essential to physical health and emotional well-being
Experts say insomnia is a common problem that takes a toll on the energy, mood, health, and ability to function during the day.
Physicians say chronic insomnia can even contribute to serious health problems; while simple changes to lifestyle and daily habits can put a stop to sleepless nights.
Researchers, Prof. Lawrence Robinson of Cornell University; and Dr. Robert Segal, warn that as we age, we often experience normal changes in our sleeping patterns. “We may become sleepy earlier, wake up earlier, or enjoy less deep sleep,” they advise.
 And although these changes are a normal part of ageing, disturbed sleep, waking up tired every day, and other symptoms of insomnia are not a normal part of ageing, the scientists argue.
They are of the view that sleep is just as important to our physical and emotional health over the age of 50 as it was when we were younger.
Indeed, a recent study by the National Institutes of Health suggests that healthy older people may require about one and a half hours less sleep than younger adults, or an average of seven and a half hours per night. The study indicates that older adults sleep less even when given the opportunity for more sleep because of age-related changes in the ability to fall asleep or remain asleep.
Causes of insomnia
General Practitioner, Dr. Maureen Keke, says many reasons are responsible for insomnia. She warns that if you are under a lot of stress, and if you are depressed or anxious, sleep may elude you.
Again, she notes, those who have recently gone through certain traumatic experience and those on some medications that change sleeping patterns may find it difficult sleeping when their body demands rest.
While some health problems may also snatch away your sleep, Keke says the crowded and noisy environment that many people live in is a contributory factor to sleeplessness.
Troubling statistics
An online portal, better-sleep-better-life.com, relates that people today sleep 20 per cent less than they did 100 years ago; and that one in three people suffer from some form of insomnia during their lifetime.
Again, it notes, between 40 and 60 per cent of people over the age of 60 suffer from sleep deprivation; while women are up to twice as likely to suffer from insomnia as men. “This has to do with women’s hormones,” experts say; as sleepless nights and daytime sleepiness have been linked with hormonal changes in a woman’s life, including pregnancy, menopause, and the menstrual cycle.
Worse still, researchers enthuse, people who suffer from sleep deprivation are 27 per cent more likely to become overweight or obese.
And when it comes to bedroom affairs, study says, the top reason couples gave for avoiding sex was “too tired or need sleep.”
Moreover, University of Rochester researchers found that people who persistently get less sleep are more likely to be involved in road accidents, and they have higher rates of absenteeism from work, while they are more likely to get easily irritated.
Hereditary factor
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine describes some hereditary sleep disorder as “prion disease.” The scientists say it is caused by an abnormal protein developing from a genetic mutation, and it affects brain function, causing memory loss, and giving the sufferer no control over muscle movements and hallucinations.
They report the case of a 53-year-old man who suffered from lack of sleep, getting only two to three hours per night.
Two months later, they say, he could sleep only one hour per night, and was frequently disturbed by vivid dreams. After three to six months, normal sleep became impossible, causing him severe fatigue, body tremors and breathing difficulty.
After eight months, he fell into a stupor and eventually died. The researchers’ analysis of the family’s history revealed that the man’s two sisters, and many of his relatives, also died of a similar disease.
Sleeplessness and your brain
A new study published in the recent edition of the journal, Sleep, suggests that some people with insomnia may have trouble activating certain brain regions involved in short-term memory.
In addition, it says, people with insomnia may have problems turning off brain regions that are typically active when the mind wanders.
Lead researcher/associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, Mr. Sean Drummond, warns that it is not surprising that someone with insomnia would feel like they are working harder to do the same job as a healthy sleeper.
Drummond reveals that in a study involving 50 people, half of whom have insomnia, researchers found that people with insomnia not only had trouble sleeping at night, but their brains were not functioning as efficiently during the day.
So, if you are having difficulty sleeping, do see your doctor!
Symptoms of insomnia
•   Difficulty falling asleep despite being tired
•   Waking up frequently during the night
•   Trouble getting back to sleep when awakened
•   Exhausting sleep
•   Relying on sleeping pills or alcohol to fall asleep
•   Waking up too early in the morning
•   Daytime drowsiness, fatigue, or irritability
•   Difficulty concentrating during the day
- Source: helpguide.org



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