Health

Counting sheep…

Counting sheep…

Can’t sleep? Here’s why it’s important to seek help.

Sleep disturbances are sign of the times and many people battle to get a good night’s rest. According to neurophysiologist Peet Vermaak of The Nelspruit Sleep Clinic, restlessness in sleepers is more common than you think. Often caused by circumstances, many factors contribute, including overstimulation due to our late-night addiction to technology, lifestyle factors like the rise in obesity and environmental considerations, for example a brightly lit suburb or noisy neighbourhood. Whatever the reason, sleeping issues are on the rise.

Why is sleep important?

You need it as much as you need to breathe and eat. While you’re sleeping, your body is busy tending to your physical and mental health, and getting you ready for the following day.
In children and adolescents, hormones that promote growth are released during sleep. These hormones help build muscle mass, as well as make repairs to cells and tissues. Sleep is vital to development during puberty.
When you’re deprived of it, your brain can’t function properly, affecting your cognitive abilities and emotional state. If it continues long enough, it can lower your body’s defenses, putting you at risk of developing chronic illness. The more obvious signs of sleep deprivation are excessive sleepiness, yawning and irritability. When chronic it interferes with balance, coordination and decision-making abilities.
When you’re sleep-deprived, the effects of alcohol consumption are magnified, as is your risk of being involved in an accident.

MOST COMMON PROBLEMS
Insomnia
It is by far the most common disorder, characterised as having poor sleep quality due to one or more of the following:
• Difficulty going to sleep at night
• Waking often in the middle of the night with trouble returning to sleep
• Waking earlier in the morning than planned or desired.
Classifying insomnia varies on how long symptoms last and how often they occur. Acute insomnia is experiencing sleep loss over a short period of time, from one night to a few weeks. When chronic poor sleep quality occurs at least three nights a week for a month or longer.
Causes can vary from being associated with a medical or psychiatric problem, environmental influences, stress and worry, or simply occurring without reason.

Sleep apnoea
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is the second most prevalent sleep disorder, although the vast majority of sufferers may not realise they have it. While insomnia may be the most common, OSA is the disorder most sleep clinics diagnose and treat.
It is when a person’s breathing stops for several seconds during the night due to a blockage in the upper respiratory system. As one sleeps, soft tissues in the throat relax and collapse into the airway blocking oxygen from getting to the lungs. Partial blockage often results in snoring, and full results in a cessation of breathing followed by gasping or choking sounds as breathing resumes.
As a response to not taking in air, the brain partially awakens from sleep to force respiratory effort to breath harder and get past the blockage.
When this occurs several times an hour for several seconds at a time, the brain is never really allowed time to enter deeper phases of sleep where restorative bone, tissue, and cognitive functions prepare you for the next day. As a result, quality sleep is forfeited leaving the person feeling tired.
Furthermore, the respiratory effort required during sleep to continue breathing and functioning puts a strain on the heart and can lead to all kinds of cardiological problems down the road including heart attack, heart failure and heart arrhythmia.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
It is a neurological disorder characterised by a persistent, sometimes overwhelming need to move one’s legs (and occasionally other body parts), usually while resting. Sensations are often described as creeping, pulling, aching, itching, burning and throbbing and the only relief is temporary movement or massaging of the legs.
RLS is classified as a sleep disorder because the constant need to move during rest can have a severe impact on the ability to get to, and maintain sleep. Sleep loss is one of the most commonly reported side effects of RLS and leads to similar symptoms of sleep deprivation found in other disorders including diminished quality of life, excessive daytime sleepiness, memory impairment, cognitive impairment, and even depression.

Narcolepsy
It is a neurological disorder characterised by the brain’s inability to control its sleep/wakefulness cycle.
People with narcolepsy suffer from chronic daytime sleepiness and episodes in which they fall asleep unexpectedly during the day
These “sleep attacks” can occur at any time, during any activity. They are not limited to periods of dull or low-engagement activities, but can happen during school or work hours, in the middle of a conversation, while eating, while exercising or playing sports, or most dangerously, while driving.

Get help

If you believe you may be suffering from a sleep disorder, you should talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to the clinic. Sleep problems and your medical history will be discussed, followed by a physical examination. An appointment at The Nelspruit Sleep Clinic is not necessarily one for an overnight sleep study, merely to assess and diagnose your disorder.

Get in touch
Find the clinic at Lowveld Hospital in Mbombela or contact 013-752-8092.

Sources: www.healthline.com and www.alaskasleep.com

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