The normal sleep requirement is around 7-8 hours; generally around 10:00 pm to 6:00 am. If there is a problem getting sleep with either the person having no time to sleep or cannot fall asleep or maintain sleep, then over a period of months and years, he can develop other health issues.
Chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia can become worse if there are sleep problems. Good sleep may help to improve that to some extent as those are multi-faceted diseases. Good sleep is a key to keep the symptoms under control.
If a person has delayed sleep phase syndrome (more on that in coming blogs), meaning they tend to go to bed late and wake up late like teenagers, (loves going to bed around 1:00 am-5:00 am and waking up around 10:00 am-2:00 pm), then the biological sleep clock changes. He cannot function very well at other times and will be sleepy going to school, college or work. He cannot wake up early and cannot fall asleep early when he goes to bed, let’s say, around 11:00 pm or 12 midnight as they have to be up around 6:00-7:00 am. So, he has about 3 hours of sleep loss every day. This is a cumulative sleep loss for the body and one is causing a sleep debt to his body. Down the road, it may affect the health if not addressed. Just like good food is a key for health, so is sleep.
If one has a problem falling asleep or has insomnia of other causes, then also he will have lack of sleep. The underlying cause of the chronic sleep deprivation needs to be evaluated and if one is not getting better, then it is good to see his own physician, and especially a sleep specialist if possible, to understand the underlying cause of sleep problem(s).
Chronic sleep deprivation or lack of long term sleep will slowly lead to multiple medical problems. It may produce digestion problems like more gas or heart burn symptoms. Emotional problems like anxiety, depression, and addictions, like on-going smoking and alcohol use. It starts affecting the memory, especially the short term. Long term leads to cardiovascular problems, hormonal imbalances, and abnormal sugar level. If one has diabetes , then it may also get worse down the road.
Another important thing is the inability to lose weight, if one is overweight. Lack of adequate sleep will lead to abnormal fat metabolism and inability to lose weight. This may happen in spite of watching the diet and doing exercise.
Chronic sleep deprivation, if neglected, can slowly cause lots of health issues and difficulty for health care professional to diagnose, as it is the person who knows the sleep problem and is not reporting it. Also, the chronic sleep deprivation can lead to low pain threshold and increase in the pain if one has chronic pain syndrome, like chronic back pain, neck pain or body pain. Similarly, it also leads to increase irritability and emotional issues. It can more frequently create arguments in the house or in relationships than in persons who are fully rested with adequate sleep.
Generally, it is good to have the physician address this issue, if one has it, as there is a variable from person to person, but of the few things that may help one, it is the improvement of the sleep hygiene. (Refer to other sleep hygiene blogs for other details.) Slowly, one should get into the habit of going to bed at the same time and waking up at same time. Unless one has to mandatorily work after 10:00 pm, it is good then to retire for the day and to sleep and wake up around 6:00 am or a little earlier , if possible, and keep the same schedule. This schedule will have the biological clock synchronize with the sunrise and sunset cycle for most people with few exceptions, like those who are further away from the equator. Secondly, it also has relationship with the secretion of the cortisol level. Similar findings for good health are also discussed in Ayurveda literature.
If one has a problem, the use of non-pharmacological or cognitive behavioral therapy under professional guidance may help a lot. Some may have to use prescribed sleep medications, but the use should be as minimal as possible. Doing the Pranayama or the breathing exercise of Yoga or doing Yoga may slowly help to set the biological clock back to around 10:00 pm to 6:00 am schedule. The general rule is to go to bed one minute forward or backward in the clock. Let’s say, one is waking up at 9:00 am and wants to wake up at 6:00 am, then he can start waking up at 8:59 am, then 8:58 am, then 8:57 am and so forth and it may take 180 days or 6 months to get to the resynchronization of the biological clock. But still, one will have to be vigilant on that also, as the body clock has a tendency to move clockwise, so we love to wake up late and go to bed late, especially when there is a stimulus like TV, internet, etc.
Diet is equally important to keep this biological clock moving in right time and not to lag behind. A high fiber diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is a must. Smoking cessation is a key. If one has sleep problem, then one should not use alcohol, as it affects the sleep and creates the sleep maintenance difficulty, meaning it will not allow one to stay asleep. Even a small drink is sufficient to do it. Use of coffee be cut down and specially avoid it after lunch. Other this is the use of the chocolate be minimized to an extend as they affect the sleep and if possible be stoped completely. Chocolate may affect the sleep and it is very settle change and if after stoped after months one may find the difference.
If one can do some meditation or learn simple breath meditation, it may help also. If sleep problem is in relation to the different issues in life, like in relationships, with social issues, work issues, financial issues or control issues, one may need counseling, but if something cannot be changed, then it is better to accept it and move forward in life as can affect the sleep and the health.
Regularly doing the alternate nostril breathing and slow deep breathing exercises may help, especially when done in the morning and at bedtime. If one wakes up, then he may need to do it at that time, which may help to fall back to sleep slowly.
So, the longer the sleep problem has been, then it may take a longer time to improve and Pranayama may help. There may be some set backs while doing all the changes, but going back to the routine may further help.
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