I Couldn’t Sleep at All Last Night
In this part...
Everybody sleeps, or at least . . . everybody’s supposed to. The trouble is, too many people lay their heads down at night and don’t sleep. They stare at the ceiling, they flip themselves over and then back again, they rearrange their pillows and tug on their blankets, they turn on the light, they turn off the light, they get a glass of water, but they don’t sleep. Sound familiar?
In Part I, we tell you all about sleep @@md what it is, why it’s necessary, and what kinds of things can happen to the body if you don’t get enough of it. We also brief you on sleep disorders, common and not-so-common, and tell you how to evaluate your own sleep habits (you can record your symptoms on the handy sleep diary sample page in Chapter 2), and what to do next if you suspect you have a sleep disorder. We demystify the diagnostic process and walk you step by step through a sleep lab. So read on. The ZZZZZs you save may be your own.
Sleep, Blessed Sleep
In This Chapter...
Reviewing the benefits of healthy sleep
Knowing the consequences of sleep deprivation
Identifying common sleep disorders
Nearly every human being falls asleep at least once daily and ideally sleeps soundly for six to eight hours. After a good night’s sleep, most people wake up feeling refreshed, energized, alert, and ready to take on the new day.
Perhaps you take your ability to sleep well for granted; if so, you may be one of the lucky ones who lays down your head and sails quickly and peacefully away to la-la land each night. But for the estimated 40 million Americans who suffer from a sleep disorder, falling asleep and staying asleep doesn’t come so easily. A person with a sleep disorder usually sleeps poorly or not enough. So, without understanding why, a person with sleep apnea or periodic limb movement disorder or any one of the more than 80 recognized, defined sleep disorders wakes up feeling lousy, sometimes as if he or she hadn’t slept at all.
As far back as early Greek plays, the Bible, and even your caveman ancestors, people probably had sleeping problems. Of course, in prehistoric times, having someone stay awake to maintain the campfire all night long was a good idea. Maybe the guy who couldn’t sleep because he worried about being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger volunteered for the night shift. Today your saber-toothed tigers take the form of financial worries, problems at home or at the office, or a specific physical ailment, but they may keep you awake just the same.
Too frequently, sleep disorders go unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated. The cost to individuals and to society is huge; more than 100,000 automobile accidents, many fatal, are directly attributed to sleepy drivers each year. In addition, experts say that many on-the-job accidents are caused in part by poor decisions and responses made by sleep-deprived workers. Because sleep-deprived people tend to be irritable and have short fuses, they aren’t much fun to be around, which can profoundly affect both personal and work relationships. In addition, a lack of sleep adversely affects both memory and concentration, which can negatively influence a person’s job performance. And this list of problems caused by lack of sleep goes on and on.
If you or your significant other, child, a family member, or close friend has a problem sleeping, the first step is to identify the problem and then seek treatment as quickly as possible. There is no reason why one should continue suffering. You need your sleep, and we intend to help you get it. Remember, chronic sleep deprivation, no matter what the cause, is dangerous and potentially fatal. One way or another, if left untreated, being sleep deprived can cost you your life.
Before you can understand sleep disorders, first you have to understand sleep, what it is, and what functions it serves for the human brain and body. In this chapter, you find out most everything you ever wanted to know about sleep, but were too sleepy to ask, and also get a broad overview of the various sleep disorders discussed in more detail later in this book.
Sleep: Recharging Your Brain and Body
Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines sleep as “a natural, regularly recurring condition of rest for the body and mind, during which the eyes are usually closed and there is little or no conscious thought or voluntary movement.” But that brief definition hardly scratches the surface when understanding the importance of regular, high-quality, restorative sleep to the continued health and vitality of the human animal.
If you don’t get the sleep you need, you don’t restore and refresh your brain and body. You’re basically running on empty. You know what happens when a car runs out of gas, right? It stops running. Well, that’s an apt analogy. Sleep is the gas that fuels your brain, and when you don’t get enough, you may end up on the side of the road, literally, or figuratively. Alternatively you could think of sleep as something that charges up your battery. Without sleep, your battery goes dead.
Even though all animals sleep, researchers don’t agree on exactly why. They also don’t understand all the many functions and benefits of sleep. Researchers do, however, have a fairly accurate picture of what happens when animals and people don’t get enough sleep, and it’s not pretty. Animals that undergo sustained total sleep deprivation die. Thus, sleep is required to sustain life.
Speaking some sleep slang
Sleep is such a basic part of the human experience that the English language boasts many ways to refer to the process, including: snoozing, hitting the hay, getting 40 winks, logging some Zs, or catching some shuteye. Sleepers may be in the Land of Nod, the Arms of Morpheus (Morpheus was one of the sons of Somnus, the Greek god of sleep), or la-la land. People often view sleep as a panacea, a cure for what ails them, a sop for the broken heart, a renewer of hope, a restorer of spirit and determination. When people can’t sleep, they howl at the moon and storm around their bedrooms as if sheer determination could make them fall fast asleep. Unfortunately, it can’t.