Sleep Disorders — The Nightmare or a Blessing in Disguise?
What happens when sleep disorders become something we cannot get rid of? What happens when we toss and turn for hours in the bed without a wink?
Chances are most of us grew up hearing sentences like – Brush your teeth! Wash your hands! Write your homework! And – go to bed! – with the usual addendum of – You’ll never grow up to be strong and healthy if you don’t get enough sleep. (And yes, your eyes will go square if you don’t stop watching TV!)
As annoying as those sentences were, each and every one holds a morsel or two of truth in it. Apart from the square-eyes thing. The hygiene nuisance we all, as we grow, get under control (one would hope) but what happens to our bodies and mind if sleep becomes a creature only found in myths and stories?
Most of us, understandably, jump to the conclusion that nothing good can come out of suffering from sleep disorders. Even one or two nights of sleep deprivation turns most people into cranky beasts or ragdolls with the energy levels of a comatose slug.
But, have you ever wondered if there might be any positive side effects that might happen if we do not sleep the prescribed eight or so hours or if we suffer from sleep disorders?
After all, there are plenty of famous high-achievers who went on little or almost no sleep at all.
How can this be if there are only downsides to not getting enough shut-eye?
What Sleep Disorders Do to Our Minds and Bodies
We can disregard one or two sleepless nights if we know those are just anomalies happening from time to time and we will be able, eventually, to have a proper rest and recharge.
Those who suffer from sleep disorders cannot be so flippant about this. They suffer, end of the story.
Everything gets affected by the lack of sleep – the central nervous system, respiratory system, immune system, digestive system as well as the endocrine system and cardiovascular system.
Translated – you might end up being a tired, anxious, depressed, overweight, stroke and flu-prone individual not many would wish to socialize with.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg of issues people with sleep disorders face.
There is a sea of difference between experiencing bouts of insomnia but eventually still getting some sleep or even having prolonged periods of good, quality sleep and trying to deal with certified sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep terrors, and parasomnias. All of these are serious disorders not just affecting sleep but are detrimental to the overall quality of life.
Eventually, those suffering from any of these disorders seek medical treatment, which usually includes sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medication and/or antidepressants if depression and anxiety are the underlying problems manifesting as insomnia.
People who suffer from sleep apnea might opt for surgery, CPAP therapy, wearing a dental appliance or experimenting with positional therapy.
Narcolepsy and restless leg syndrome are usually treated with medication and behavioral therapy.
Hence, there is no doubt that sleep disorders wreak havoc for most people and have severe consequences. But, what on earth is happening with those who manage to thrive despite a severe lack of sleep?
Myth or Truth: A Race of Superhuman Beings Thriving on Little to No Sleep
It seems we all know one such creature who, despite sleeping just here and there, manages to lead a full, happy, healthy life. And while we might grind our teeth and watch in despair as they happily bounce around while we are nursing our tenth cup of coffee and still failing to do more than just blink, it would seem there is no black magic involved nor have there been any lab accidents with green gooey stuff.
According to available information, there is approximately 1% of people who experience little or no negative side effects from their lack of sleep. In fact, they are not only resistant to it, but they actually thrive on it.
Madonna, Winston Churchill, Voltaire, Emily Bronte, Salvador Dali, Jimmy Kimmel, Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla… There are plenty of well-known people with sleep disorders who are, obviously, high-achievers. How is this possible?
Ying-Hui Fu, a Ph.D. professor of neurology, conducted a long-term study that was eventually able to prove that the key to being a properly functioning individual on less sleep can be explained by a mutation in genes.
To be precise, DEC2 gene mutation which neatly explains how some short sleepers manage to be healthy and successful. The research also confirmed that DEC2 mutation is rare, as are most gene mutations, but, according to professor Fu, there are more gene mutations that affect sleep and are currently being studied in order to understand sleep better. She consequently found another gene mutation, ADRB1, which also induces wakefulness and has been found in a family that is able to function on as little as 4.5 hours of sleep.
In fact, Allan I.Pack has been studying the genetics of sleep disorders and sleep his whole life and he followed up Professor Fu’s research with individuals suffering from either chronic or acute sleep disorders.
Using their DNA, Professor Pack was able to detect resembling mutation in one of the fraternal twins involved in the study. Pack, like Fu, also concluded that there are several genetic mutations that affect sleep patterns and that these mutations seem to be inheritable. Yet, these initial studies are far from being over and conclusive and much more research is necessary to obtain hard proof on how genetics do or don’t influence sleep disorders.
Steps to Take in Tackling Sleep Disorders
The fact remains that most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep to stay healthy and perform their daily activities with success. When sleep disorders occur, detrimental physical and mental issues come along, seriously lowering an individual’s quality of life.
People who are seemingly able to lead healthy lives surviving on 6 hours of sleep or less are likely to have either some sort of genetic mutation or are simply genetically predisposed to withstand a lifestyle which requires less sleep.
While sleep disorders are not easily treatable and in most cases treatment may last from several months to several years (and still be met with partial results), modern science and available remedies still make it possible to alleviate the negative effects to some degree.
Most people who suffer from serious sleep disorders use a combination of medical treatments alongside lifestyle alterations. Those usually include exercising, sticking to a bedtime routine, eating a healthy diet, using techniques such as meditation, yoga and breathing exercises to help them unwind and relax before going to bed.
Another fairly recent research also involves medicinal marijuana and its possible benefits of inducing sleep. Those who mean to take this route on their cumbersome journey to a good night’s sleep need to get well-informed and take into account all the possible side effects. They also need to be aware that despite the fact that plenty of US states have legalized medical marijuana, the FDA allows its use only in the treatment of epilepsy, and only when those affected have either Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
As with all things in life, various people react differently to lack of sleep and the possible treatments which are meant to help.
Unfortunately, the old fashioned trial and error technique seems like the only way to find out what might work best. The sage and safest way to proceed, if you are suffering from sleep disorders, is to start with your GP and follow up on the advice given, making necessary adjustments to fit your specific needs. But, most importantly, don’t suffer in silence because the side effects of going without proper sleep may not just be dangerous, they might even prove fatal.
About the Author
Mira Rakicevic:— Before I started working as a sleep expert, I always envied people who were passionate about their jobs. Now I have an opportunity to do something I truly enjoy, and no, I can’t sleep at work! Chief Author and Editor at DisturbMeNot.co https://www.linkedin.com/in/miroslavarakicevic/