Mounting research into the effects of poor sleep quality on overall health and well-being has really begun to explain why we may feel the way we do. In the past 3 years alone, we now know that poor sleep quality can contribute to a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, memory loss, depression, and diabetes. New research is revealing that the way we sleep can also provide a road map of sorts for various other disorders, and may even predict where we will likely spend our golden years.
In a recent study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, they recently discovered that fragmented or interrupted sleep may predict that older women with poor sleep quality are more likely to live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or other institutions.
Suffering from headache?
You are not alone. Millions of Americans visit their doctor each year for headache or migraine. Very few of these patients (and few physicians) realize that their sleeping position may be causing their headaches. Our research has highlighted the link between side sleeping as a culprit in neck and back pain, which can be major contributing factors to headache and migraine. Standard remedies are ineffective for headaches related to sleep position, but changing the way we sleep has been shown to dramatically reduce the frequency and severity of headache and migraine in a large number of patients.
“But my sleep is normal, I just snore a little.”
Maybe not. It amazes me when people come to our Sleep Center for their study, claiming that their sleep is normal; yet they have a list of complaints and ailments that can be directly associated with their overall sleep quality. Their problems include not only daytime tiredness and fatigue, but also irritability, depression, mood swings, forgetfulness or poor concentration, poor memory, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety, panic attacks, diabetes, heart disease, or even a history of stroke or seizures.
“I don’t have a sleep disorder; my mind just won’t shut off at night – I just can’t get to sleep for hours most nights.”
This is, by far, the most common statement from patients in the Sleep Lab. Remarkably; this may be one of the strongest indications of the presence of a sleep disorder. If this sounds like you, make a conscious effort to notice how often you reposition your head or neck on the pillow as you are trying to drift off. This can be a clear sign that your upper airway is narrowing as sleep onset occurs – bringing you back to full awareness just as you are about to get some sleep – which can lead your mind to continually race.
Sleep is NOT merely the absence of wakefulness!
Good sleep is vital to our overall health and well-being. It is the body’s way to shut down to allow itself to heal and rejuvenate everything from hormone levels to spinal realignment and rehydration of the disks in the spine, and even to consolidate memory. Research has shown that deep sleep is critical for control of appetite and producing the chemicals and hormones the body uses to process complex sugars. One thing research has shown, and continues to tell us: sleep is an active process for the body, and is just as important as physical activity if we want to feel and function well.
If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, a sleep study is the best way to evaluate your sleep quality and understand what is really going on while you sleep. This comprehensive test that monitors your respirations, heart rate, brain waves, limb movements, oxygen saturation and sleep position may go a long way to help further your physician’s understanding of what may really be at the root of some of your medical issues.
- Travis Mecum, RPSGT
Sleep Center Manager at MidAmerica Neuroscience Institute