In any case, it is certain that the number of complaints related to sleep problems has increased in recent years. This is due to two phenomena. First, in today's society, people want to control their sleep, it must be perfect to optimize their efficiency the next day. As with food or running, sleep (as well as waking phases) is constantly measured. How long and how should you sleep? This question can become a real obsession. However, the more we try to control our sleep, the more it escapes us. Focusing on sleep disturbs it and leads to various health and attention problems.
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It also happens just due to the fact that talking about sleep is no longer a taboo. Before, what happened in the bedroom belonged to the private sphere. It was a secret! Today, people with sleep disorders talk about it, which is a good thing because many therapeutic solutions exist to treat them.
More and More Studied, Sleep Remains a Mysterious Function
Sleep is indeed one of the big questions that scientists have yet to solve. People spend a third of their lives sleeping. Sleep helps to eliminate the metabolic residues of neuronal brain work or to consolidate the important memories of the day and eliminate others. Basically, poor sleep means poor functioning the next day. Any human needs sleep and its functions.
On the other hand, what scientists cannot yet determine is the reason sleep appeared during evolution. It is all about understanding why, in experiments, if you stop an animal from sleeping, it ends up dying.
Dreams: Their Role
In fact, we know that dreams play a fundamental role in learning processes. Studies on rats, for example, have shown how these rodents learn to hunt a mouse first while dreaming, which allows them to prepare for a real-life situation and to know what to do when they face it. For a human, it is a bit the same thing: the dream allows to create certain situations during the night, and this way we learn to react to certain them without necessarily having them in reality before. Dreams also play an important role in children’s sleep.
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Different Disorders That Disrupt Sleeping Functions
The forms of sleep pathologies are extremely diverse: insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome or hypersomnia… the list goes on! The treatment of these disorders is often multidisciplinary, with pulmonologists, psychiatrists and neurologists involved.
The Most Common Sleep Disorder: Insomnia
It is estimated that insomnia affects one-third to one-half of the population at least once in their lifetime. We must distinguish between acute insomnia, which is linked to a stressful event such as a move or a bereavement, and the chronic one. A form of chronic insomnia, described as psychophysiological, is self-sustaining: following stress, people sleep worse and lengthen their sleep, either by going to bed a little earlier, or by staying in bed a little longer, or by taking a nap during the day.
Once the stressful event goes away, sleep improves, but some people still have anxiety related sleep issues. And the vicious circle of chronic insomnia starts: when they enter bedroom, they wonder whether they will sleep or not, and this anxiety leads to chronic insomnia. In addition, the lengthening of the sleep time makes it worse. By spending ten hours in bed, but sleeping only seven, the person will be awake most of the time during the next night, and this is what this person will remember, which will further increase anxiety about sleeping.
How to Treat Insomnia Properly?
Contrary to popular belief, sleeping pills are not the solution! They can help to treat acute insomnia in case of a stressful situation for one to two weeks. But then we must stop taking the medication, otherwise, there is a risk of addiction appearing. In fact, what works well to treat self-sustained chronic insomnia are the so-called cognitive-behavioral techniques that affect sleep-related beliefs, excessive expectations or anxiety.
From a behavioral point of view, we must also respect some rules of sleep hygiene: have a regular schedule of going to bed, avoid caffeine and exciting activities before going to bed. But most importantly, what is most practiced in the treatment of insomnia is the restriction of sleep. People may be surprised: they come to a doctor to sleep better and longer. But he/she tells them the opposite: to sleep a maximum of six hours a night and not to take a nap during the day. By these sleep restrictions, people go to bed when they are really tired and rediscover the pleasure of sleeping.
Another Big Trouble: Apnea
It is characterized by an occlusion of the throat due to a relaxation of the muscles of the pharynx. The occlusion is repeated very often at night so that the sleep is interrupted and the person hardly ever reaches a stage of deep sleep. Such sleep is not restorative, and people who suffer from apnea are tired during the day with, among other things, increased risk of falling asleep while driving, which is very dangerous.
But apneas also have cardiac consequences. The purpose of breathing is to bring oxygen into the body and to release carbon dioxide. However, apnea disrupts this function, and the body is in lack of oxygen, with a rate of carbon dioxide increasing and adrenaline discharges after each wake. These problems induce an important cardiac stimulation: the heart must make great efforts while it lacks oxygen. As a result, people who suffer from apnea are three times more likely to have heart problems or stroke than those who do not. Moreover, the risk of high blood pressure is much higher.
All Sleep Disorders Can Be Treated
People talk more and more openly about their sleep problems but still think too often that it is a catastrophe that can be treated only by taking sleeping pills. However, medicine has made great progress in dealing with these problems.
For example, restless legs syndrome, which affects 5 to 10% of the population and is characterized by impatience in the legs that can be stopped only by moving them, is part of this diversity of disorders that doctors now manage to treat. Disorders like this, like most of those that affect sleep, are very disabling. But even if they are more and more frequent and varied, they are often not a catastrophe.
Falling Asleep Quickly and Without Problems
15 minutes – this is the average time that a usual American person needs to fall asleep. But for some people, going to bed can turn into anguish as it is sometimes difficult to get to sleep. Why is it difficult to fall asleep when you do not have any disorders and how can you solve the problem?
Our Lifestyle Creates More Problems with Falling Asleep Than Before
It is difficult to say how much the lifestyle is solely responsible. The cult of good performance in studying or career, which is central in today's world, certainly plays a role in the stress that prevents some people from falling asleep or even sleeping well at all. We must recognize that only recently we became really interested in sleep hygiene. We know today how good sleep is good for health, both in terms of cardiovascular disease and weight gain. Unfortunately, it has not always been so. People simply did not speak about this type of problem. As a result, it is difficult to compare old and current data and to accuse only the social universe in which we live now.
What Makes Some People Have Troubles Falling Asleep?
Sleep disorders are often linked to the stress of the next day's performance. We want to fall asleep fast and especially very deeply to be active and productive in the morning. The problem is that sleep cannot be controlled! It is not voluntary, we do not decide to fall asleep. However, the desire to fall asleep right now leads to the opposite effect: it generates stress, and suddenly the body and the mind refuse to rest. This circle is very difficult to break, especially for people of anxious nature.
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Physical Reasons That Can Prevent Us from Falling Asleep
Our body depends on a sleep-wake rhythm called the circadian rhythm. A day phase conducive to awakening and activity follows a night phase reserved for rest and sleep. Some people try to go to bed early to store hours of rest and hope to be more successful the next day. But by going to bed earlier than our biological clock suggests we have trouble falling asleep.Spending too much time in bed can also lead to awakenings at night and less satisfying sleep. So, you have to listen to your body and try to go to sleep at the same time every day to sleep according to your rhythm and avoid disturbing the sleep-wake rhythm.
Activities We Do Before Going to Bed Influence How We Fall Asleep
In the evening, our brain can be very active. Sending messages from your phone, chatting on the Internet or playing on the PlayStation before going to sleep can lead to sleep problems as these activities put you in a state of excitement. But, on the contrary, to fall asleep easily, it is recommended to perform rather calm and relaxing activities before going to bed.
Do You Need to Avoid Caffeine?
Yes, although some people are not very sensitive to it. In fact, it is a genetic thing – either you are sensitive to caffeine, or you are not. Normally, people realize this, because when you are very sensitive to this substance, a few glasses of Coca-Cola may be enough to keep you awake all night.
Rules to Follow Before Going to Bed
Most importantly, it is always trying to go to bed at the same time. Some people say that the hours before midnight count double, which is not necessarily true. What matters is to go to bed when our body expects to sleep and not to stay in bed once we are awake. This way we will have less trouble falling asleep and, in addition, we will wake up more easily.
We must also reserve a period of relaxation for a good hour before going to bed. It is also recommended not to spend time in bed during the day (watching TV or eating in bed) so that getting into the bed is a strong signal that tells the body that it is time to sleep. You can also create a small ritual before going to bed: as children are told stories in the evening, it may be useful to repeat certain actions to facilitate falling asleep.
Treatments for People Who Have Problems Falling Asleep
Temporary sleep restrictions are often very effective. For example, people are asked to limit the time spent in bed to six hours per night. They decide when they want to schedule them. If it is from midnight to six o'clock, it is forbidden to go to bed before midnight, and they must imperatively get up at 6 o'clock.
Result: with this light "sleep debt," they end up rejoicing to go to bed rather than fearing this moment. Going to bed is no longer linked to the anxiety of not sleeping but becomes a natural pleasure. The six hours are also usually not enough to recover, which makes it easier to fall asleep because the person is tired. Then you can only gradually lengthen the nights to find a balance that suits you.
When Can We Use Sleeping Pills?
Normally, sleeping pills can be taken for acute or short-term insomnia. For example, a person has lost a loved one and cannot sleep anymore. In this case, a prescription of sleeping pills for a few days may be beneficial to help them get to sleep. But you must always have a treatment end date at the time of the prescription. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and doctors find people taking sleeping pills for many years.
The consequences are dramatic. They have become accustomed to the effects of the sleeping pills, and if they stop taking them, it causes terrible insomnia because the body needs them to fall asleep. It is, therefore, necessary to leave these treatments for exceptional cases. The rest of the time, in case of persistent problems, it is better to use behavioral therapies to find a healthy balance between sleep and wake.