Sleep Patterns Make Steep Changes During Your Life
[...] MIDLIFE SLEEP CRISISI used the "Midlife Stage" as an excerpt for this blogpost, because that is about where I am at now. But the entire article starts with infancy, childhood, teen years, all the way through to old age. Something for everyone! Read the whole thing, for embedded links and advice for improving your sleep, whatever stage you may be in.
A lot of accomplished people claim not to need a lot of sleep. Household arts maven Martha Stewart purports to get only four hours a night. So does Tonight Show host Jay Leno. Napoleon, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Salvador Dali and Leonard da Vinci didn’t get much shut-eye either. So television journalist Pamela Wallin, who also averages only four hours a night, is in august company. “I’ve been an insomniac for as long as I can remember,” says Wallin, a Saskatchewan native who lives in Toronto. “I’ve tried herbal remedies and chamomile tea. I avoid prescription drugs because I can’t afford to lose my sharpness the next day.” Ultimately, Wallin regards her chronic insomnia as something she just has to live with. “If I needed more sleep,” she reasons, “I probably wouldn’t have gotten done what I have done in my life.”
Sixty-two per cent of Americans experience a sleep problem a few nights a week, according to a National Sleep Foundation study released last month. Two-thirds say sleepiness interferes with their concentration. “We should really get nine or 10 hours of sleep,” says psychologist Coren. “But we’re only getting seven. Sleep is not something we value.” Family stresses, the frenetic pace of life and poor bedtime habits all contribute to an epidemic of sleeplessness. Among modern complications: the wired world. “I know people who have a fax machine at the foot of their bed with a little bleeper so they can get up in the middle of the night to read their faxes,” says Coren. “The pressure to lead a 24-hour life is getting worse.”
At least many poor sleepers know they need help. About 2,000 people a year use the sleep clinic at UBC run by psychiatrist Jon Fleming. Thirty-five per cent of them complain of insomnia, a disorder that often runs in families. Others attend the clinic because of sleep apnea (troubled breathing) and narcolepsy (an overwhelming desire to sleep), among other sleep disorders. “The causes of insomnia are legion,” says Fleming. “It can be caused by psychiatric conditions or drug and alcohol abuse. But the leading cause is stress.” When Vancouver children’s bookstore owner Phyllis Simon can’t sleep, she gets out of bed for a while and writes a list of all the things she has to do. “I try to transfer my anxieties to the list. Then I’ll make myself a cup of warm milk.”
But waking up in the middle of the night and then going back to sleep – – as Simon sometimes does — can be harder on cognition than not sleeping at all, says University of Montreal psychiatrist Roger Godbout. “Your performance the next day will be worse than if you stay up all night,” he explains. While insomnia may lead to fuzzy thinking, those who short-circuit sleep by working long hours could also be compromising their physical health. Research at the University of Chicago shows adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep are more prone to diabetes, high blood pressure and endocrine dysfunction.
Women also report more sleep problems than men — a consequence, often, of their biology. Just before menstruation, says Toronto Western Hospital sleep researcher Helen Driver, “there is a withdrawal of hormones that triggers poor sleep.” Entering menopause doesn’t make it better. Thirty-six per cent of menopausal women polled by the National Sleep Foundation said hot flashes interfered with their night’s rest. Sleep investigators are becoming more aware of the effects of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, says Driver. “Progesterone,” she says, “interacts with a receptor in the brain that seems to have sleep-inducing qualities.” [...]