Monthly Archives: May 2012

I’m Dizzy with Sleep Debt

So although I’m a sleep expert, unfortunately that doesn’t make me immune to the havoc that life events can wreak on sleep health. My usual healthy 8.3 hour average sleep which leaves me energetic and sharp all day has plummeted to a mere 6.5 hours over the last week. I’m not alarmed, as identifiable events are interfering with my sleep, and I know that once those settle down my sleep will easily bounce back. Today I’m feeling the effects of acute sleep deprivation, a perfect chance for a blog post.

During acute sleep deprivation, people can feel a variety of somatic symptoms, like stomach or head aches. Others may feel dizzy or have difficulty concentrating. And of course there are performance decrements which we’ve discussed previously, and health problems too.

For me, today, the sleep loss is making me feel slightly dizzy, ravenously hungry for sugar (which is more difficult to resist than usual), my eyes feel irritated, and I’ve been making errors like hitting the wrong elevator button, and feel I need to work extra hard to pay attention while driving. My temperature control also seems to be off.

Now 6.5 hours of sleep nightly for 5 nights is not bad for many people. About 30% of American workers report getting less than 6 hours on work nights. What I wonder is whether people who are habitually sleep deprived get accustomed to the feelings of sleep debt, so that it becomes their normal? Granted I’m not a good person to say, both because I spend more time thinking about sleep than average, and because I’m usually well-rested, so can really notice the effects of sleep debt.

Today and the rest of the week I’ll keep my healthy sleep habits in place, and not worry about it, knowing my sleep will get back on track in a day or two. Until then, sugar anyone?

Does a Hot Bath Help Sleep?

Many people ask me “Does a warm bath help sleep, or is that just a myth?” The research shows . . .

Yes, it seems to help somewhat. Medical research has investigated the impact of both baths and foot baths on sleep. One study in older people with sleep disturbance found that a 40 minute footbath at 41C decreased wakefulness in the second nonREM sleep period. Women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer have also found increased sleep quality with a warm footbath. Another study done in elderly insomniacs found that a full-body bath (immersed to the mid-chest) for 30 minutes at 40-41C did increase deep sleep, and caused people to experience a good night sleep. .

How does a warm bath improve sleep? Human body temperature is not constant, but varies with a consistent circadian rhythm.  There is a slight dip in body temperature at approximately 1pm, and then a more significant drop in the evening hours.  We get that sleepy feeling as our body temperature drops. The bath effectively raises our body temperature, and the subsequent drop helps sleep. The bath should be about 60-90 minutes before bedtime.

Of all the means you can use to improve your sleep, this one seems one of the most simple, with the least possible negative side effects. This is a good therapy to try first before using other, more invasive medicine.

Tobacco Impacts Your Sleep

In past posts we’ve talked about the impact alcohol can have on sleep, which is widely known. Nicotine also has an impact, which seems less well known by the public.

Studies show that nicotine changes sleep, so that it takes longer to fall asleep initially, people sleep a lower percentage of the time in bed, and REM sleep and total sleep time is decreased. None of these are effects we want!

According to the Centers for Disease Control “In 2010, 43.5 million adults (19.3%) in the United States were current smokers—21.5% of men and 17.3% of women.” So that’s about 1 in 5 people who are exposing themselves to nicotine, and suffering the consequences on their sleep.

If you are someone who struggles with sleep, and smokes, it may be worth the effort to stop smoking in order to improve your sleep, and reap all the other health benefits too. Many state health departments have ‘Stop Smoking’ helplines, and your primary care physician can assist you.