Sleep and Dreams

What is Sleep Disorders?

Sleep is a vital ingredient needed for the body and mind to function. Most of our lives will be spent in slumber, re-charging our batteries for the day ahead. Regardless of the cause, interrupted or poor quality sleep can be extremely problematic. The brain which functions as the ‘battery’ of your body, needs adequate sleep to perform.

Brain functions includes handling emotions to regulating physical necessities such as body temperature, heartbeat and breathing. When quality of sleep is compromised and/or inadequate, the body cannot perform at its best, and many of the human body’s systems are negatively affected.

Examples of sleep disorders include:

Sleep apnea (intermittent breathing during sleep due to an obstructed airway)
Snoring
Night terrors
Narcolepsy
Somnambulism (sleepwalking)
Nocturnal myoclonus (unusual movement during sleep)
Enuresis (bedwetting)
Bad dreams and nightmares

Insomnia, the common problem of not being able to fall asleep, is a symptom - not an illness – and may be linked to a variety of disorders and conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress or even hypoglycemia. Insomnia is also a common side effect linked to the use of certain prescription drugs such as antidepressants and stimulants.

Lack of sleep can lead to irritability and a lack of focus. Lack of focus means that certain activities can become greatly impaired. Everyday activities such as driving can become dangerous. Operating dangerous equipment can also lead to accidents when a person has been deprived of achieving restful sleep. For this reason, sleep disorders can sometimes have severe and devastating consequences at home and in the workplace.

Furthermore, a lack of sleep can exacerbate many other disorders. For example, a child with ADHD or ADD who has had several restless nights will be more likely to misbehave or demonstrate hyperactive behavior which is the body’s way of coping with lack of sleep. This symptom is often cited in childhood ADD/ADHD.

Some sleep problems may disappear on their own, while others develop into more serious sleep disorders such as parasomnias, obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, sleep paralysis, snoring, and seasonal affective disorder if left untreated.

Diagnosing Sleep Disorders

Although lying awake night after night is difficult to miss, some people may not even be aware that they have a sleep disorder, especially disorders like sleep apnea. However, it is usually relatively easy to determine if you or your children suffer from a sleep disorder. Fatigue and lack of energy are usually the most prevalent signs that the body is not getting enough rest. You may notice that you or your child exhibits the following characteristics:

While awake:

Excessive daytime sleepiness
Frequent yawning (the brain trying to get more oxygen)
Decreased speed at performing daily tasks
Memory problems
Lack of appetite

During sleep:

Snoring
Waking up often during the night
Tossing and turning
Restless and unable to get ‘comfortable’

Use of stimulant medications may create their own sleep problems. Stimulants are designed to do just that- stimulate. Stimulants then cause the brain and nervous system to work in overdrive, increasing heartbeat and heightening senses such as sight and sound. In this over-sensitive state, a person may try to fall asleep, but noises prove too distracting. This causes the brain to ‘fight’ its natural ability to become less active.

What Causes Sleep Disorders?

The existence underlying health conditions and symptoms can sometimes trigger sleep disorders. Common conditions that can cause sleep disorders include:
Depression
Pain
Mood disorders
Generalized anxiety disorder
Alcohol withdrawal
Thyrotoxicosis

Children who suffer from bad dreams and night terrors may not be getting appropriate and restful sleep and therefore develop a sleep disorder.

A diet that is high in caffeine, fat, or sugars may also affect sleep patterns and trigger sleep disorders.

Help for Sleep Disorders

Sleeping disorders are treated in a variety of ways, depending on the disorder. When insomnia is linked to medication, it may be necessary to change the medication or reduce the dosage.

Doctors may prescribe sleeping medication to cope with insomnia and to induce artificial sleep. Unfortunately many prescription sleeping medications are habit-forming and do not encourage the re-establishment of sleep routines, certain OTC drugs, including histamines, are also often used to induce drowsiness. However, their effectiveness decreases over time and there can be other unwanted side effects.

Natural Remedies

Natural remedies, especially herbs, have been used for thousands of years to induce drowsiness and encourage peaceful sleep. Even in today’s world, many people use these natural alternatives. They do not contain stimulants and have the additional advantage of containing ingredients that actually help the brain to naturally make its transition into the peaceful phase of sleep!

Furthermore, they are completely safe, eliminating the need for sedative drugs like sleeping pills. Children often benefit from specific natural remedies that contain herbs such as Matricaria recutita and Passiflora incarnata – nature’s very own sedatives!

Some herbs help to make you sleepy and can be taken when needed (e.g. Matricaria recutita, Valerian) while others work in the long term to restore healthy sleep patterns (e.g. St John’s Wort). Remember that all natural remedies need to be in the correct therapeutic dosage to be effective. Check with your physician before combining medications with natural remedies. Be sure to source yours from a reputable company!
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