While the brain is less active when we sleep, sustaining this physiological state helps us relax and nourishes the health of our minds and bodies.
Bernardo Uribe García Clinical Neurologist
How is the quality of your sleep? How many minutes to does it normally take you to fall asleep? How many times in the last month did you wake up in the middle of the night? Have you taken any over-the-counter products or prescribed medications in order to get a full night’s sleep? Answering these questions may help you better understand the quality of your sleep.
To start, it is important to establish a definition for sleep. Clinical neurologist Bernardo Uribe García has the answer, “It is a phase in which the brain does not stop working. It consolidates information and memories that were received throughout the day and releases chemical substances that improve your circulation, in addition to other activities.”
Sleeping is therefore not an interruption of your body’s vital functions at night, but rather recharges you with energy. This is why sleep disorders affect people not just at nighttime, but also mainly during a day’s activities.
A lack of sleep can cause fatigue, attention deficit disorders, affects concentration and memory, makes people irritable and leaves them in a depressed mood when doing their daily activities. Not having replenished sleep is also one of the main causes of traffic accidents as the study Prevalence of sleep complaints in Colombia at different altitudes reveals, published in the Sleep Science journal. This study measured the impact of sleep disorders in over 5,000 people from different altitudes throughout Colombia.
Different types of sleep disorders
According to Uribe García and the Asociación Colombiana de Medicina del Sueño (ACMES, the Sleep Medicine Association of Colombia), there are about 100 different types of disorders that affect the quality of one’s sleep. They can be classified into four groups: insomnia, a disorder that affect one’s ability to fall or remain asleep; hypersomnia, excessive, constant and involuntary sleep; heart rate disorders, changes in the biological clock of sleep; and parasomnia, being constantly woken up by nightmares and night terrors.
People that are overweight, have respiratory problems, a tendency to be depressive, work night shifts, as well as those that take any medications, are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders. These are situations that in general, can be corrected and even cured provided that the individual is aware of the situation and chooses to become involved in positive sleeping habits on a daily basis.
Practice good personal care
Uribe García adds that, “Some practices that can help you sleep well include going to bed at the same time, not eating or working in bed, making sure the temperature of the bedroom is comfortable, and trying not to fall asleep while watching television.” Also, avoiding the consumption of caffeinated drinks at nighttime and foods with a high calorie content can also help you to fall asleep.
According to ACMES, sleep disorders are more common in adults over the age of 55, the average age in which the production of melatonin reduces considerably, the hormone associated with regulating sleep. Fifty percent of the world’s population has had a sleep disorder at some point in their lives.
Some practices that contribute to getting good sleep are doing exercise (but not over-exceeding), avoiding long naps after 3:00 in the afternoon, and not drinking more than one glass of alcohol before going to bed.
Whether it be insomnia or sleep apnea, it is important to pay careful attention to getting good sleep. This issue has even been the inspiration for a new medical subspecialty called Sleep Medicine, which diagnoses and treats sleep disorders. If your days seem to feel long and you cannot seem to focus, evaluate what your nights are like. Before self-medicating, think about whether you might be suffering from a sleep disorder and if so, seek out the support of a specialist.
59% of Colombians are affected by sleep disorders.
On average, babies should get 17 hours of sleep; children and adolescents, 10; and adults, 7.
People who take naps, considered to be a short period of sleep during the day that does not last longer than 20 minutes, have a lower risk of heart disease.
Common sleep disorders
Insomnia: Occurs when it is very difficult to fall asleep, or when the person wakes up in the middle of the night and cannot return to sleep after more than a half hour.
Sleep apnea: Is when there are one or more breaks in the individual’s breathing when they sleep. This causes people to go from deep to light sleep. Solutions to this consist of otorhinolaryngologic treatments and using small oxygen tanks that allow for air to continually flow in and out of the lungs while sleeping.
Narcolepsy: Extreme sleepiness during the day.
Sleepwalking: Getting out of bed in the middle of deep sleep.