There is more than ample scientific and anecdotal evidence available to support the benefits of sleep, but sleeping is not entirely a voluntary process. Many Americans want to get sufficient sleep but simply cannot.
The American Sleep Association provides the public with useful information on statistics on sleep disorders and has reported the following:
- An estimated 50-70 million Americans have a sleep disorder.
- Insomnia is the most common of all sleep disorders.
- Approximately 30 percent of adults have short-term insomnia and approximately 10 percent have chronic insomnia.
- Of the obese population, short sleep is a factor in 3-5 percent of cases.
- One study revealed that 37.9 percent of participants had unintentionally fallen asleep at least one time in the preceding month.
- One study found that 4.7 percent of participants had fallen asleep or nodded off while driving on at least one occasion in the preceding month.
- Each year in the US, driving while fatigued (drowsy driving) leads to approximately 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries not ending in death.
In view of the prevalence of sleep disorders, it is important to look at some of their effects on health.
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Sleep Deprivation and Its Impact on Health
As the earlier discussion of the health benefits suggests, there are numerous negative health consequences associated with poor sleep.
The site Healthline notes, in brief, the following risks associated with poor sleep:
- Impaired brain activity
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Lowered immunity
- Being prone to accidents
- Cognitive impairment
- Type 2 diabetes
- Memory problems
- Greater susceptibility to cold and flu
- Weight gain
- Microsleep (episodes where one loses focus due to tiredness)
- Causing, or being the victim of, death by accident
The nationally televised show The Doctors has covered the topic of sleep deprivation to inform the public. Explains Dr. Travis Stork, the show’s host, the sleep-deprived brain is more active than a healthy brain but not in a helpful way. The brain sends messages to the rest of the body to find energy to compensate for the fatigue. The human response is most often to reach for caffeine and/or carbohydrate-rich foods. These behavioral responses in turn set people up to not get a good night’s sleep because, for instance, they are jittery from caffeine and/or hungry.
There is also concern when this cycle motivates a person to consume a depressant, such as wine. Drinking wine can actually prevent a person from entering into deeper stages of sleep (i.e., high-quality sleep is not achieved). At this point, it is clear how weight gain can occur which, in turn, continues the cycle of fatigue, consuming stimulants (and then possibly depressants) and then experiencing fatigue again. Dr. Travis’s explanation illuminates the need to find healthy ways to get better sleep and how a sleep disorder can trigger the onset of other conditions.
Can Alarm Clocks Help?
Alarm clocks are a testament to the regimented nature of American society. Although each person has different sleep needs, work schedules typically compel uniformity (as in the 9-5 job standard). As a result, alarm clocks are seen either as a necessary evil or a helpful tool. Many Americans simply take them for granted but it’s important to consider the pros and cons.
Explains the Huffington Post, alarm clocks help us in the following ways:
- They keep people on schedule. Whether people need to get to work, take children to school, or run errands, it is very clear in the American way of life that people often need to adapt to someone, or something, else’s time schedule.
- They help to normalize sleep schedules. Keeping our biological clock running along a consistent waking pattern is generally considered positive for health.
- They provide peace of mind. Knowing that one has a reliable alarm clock removes the concern of having to naturally self-regulate sleep.
Yet alarm clocks can hinder people in some respects, such as:
- They can induce anxiety when people are not able to fall asleep because they can literally see the time passing. For this reason, sleep experts recommend covering the face of the clock.
- They can wake people by startling them. Sounding an alarm is usually reserved in American society for an emergency. Waking up is not exactly an emergency, and a traditional alarm sounding off at the point of waking can increase stress.
- They can trick us into thinking we are getting enough sleep. For instance, to keep up with social obligations, people may get to sleep later than usual. The alarm clock ensures one will get up at a designated time; however, getting up shouldn’t be the goal as much as getting adequate sleep. One healthy strategy is to save socializing for days off whenever possible.
- Lit displays on alarm clocks can disrupt sleep. For this reason, experts say it is a good idea to cover up the display. There’s usually no good reason to know the time at night, which is one of the best things about sleep; it takes us off the clock.
It’s debatable whether or not to use an alarm clock, but ultimately, it’s a matter of choice. The most important concern is the duration and quality of sleep that a person gets each night. In some instances, it is particularly critical for a person to have a healthy sleep cycle. When recovering from substance abuse, doctors highlight the importance of establishing a healthy pattern of sleep.
Sleep and Recovery
The relationship between substance abuse and sleep problems comes about in different ways. In some instances, an existing sleep disorder can be a factor in a person developing a substance use disorder. In other instances, the sleep disorder is a side effect of the substance abuse.
The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has examined the link between sleep disorders and substance abuse. Compared to the general population, sleep disorders occur 5-10 times more frequently in individuals who are experiencing a substance use disorder. For individuals facing an alcohol use disorder, insomnia or other sleep disorders can persist even after abstinence is achieved. In the case of opioid abuse, individuals may have a difficult time falling asleep or maintaining sleep.
In short, different drugs can impact sleep differently. Once a sleep disorder and a substance use disorder have set in, each will require treatment. Integrated treatment is needed, in part, to prevent a relapse of either condition, which can trigger the other condition to emerge.
An addiction recovery doctor, or other qualified professional, can provide a diagnosis soon after admission to a treatment program. Depending on the severity of the sleep disorder, the program may be able to treat it directly. For clients with severe sleep disorders, a program that provides treatment for the co-occurring disorders may be optimal. However, given the highly specialized treatment needs of people with severe sleep disorders, a rehab program may instead work in conjunction with a local sleep treatment clinic, hospital, or doctor’s practice. The key is to know that there are options available and to discuss them with an addiction treatment professional.
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