Sunday, June 19, 2011

Light Sleeper…I was born this way

Do you wake up during the night by the slightest of sounds? It turns out that some people’s brains are hard-wired to block out external stimuli, while others are aware of any noise that goes bump in the night. For light sleepers ambient sounds are the most common cause for interrupted sleep since the mind receives and monitors stimuli in order to protect them from outside threats or hear a baby cry. But it should also block sounds to let them fall asleep easy and stay asleep so they can recharge their "brain battery" as well as getting the deep sleep they need to feel refreshed the next day. Many light sleepers brains respond to all surrounding stimuli no matter if it’s nonthreatening like traffic, partner snoring or dogs barking and/or threatening such as a fire alarm or an intruder in the house. Are YOU a light sleeper? I was born this way.

[caption id="attachment_1224" align="alignright" width="209" caption="Light Sleeper...Stan was born this way"][/caption]

Scientist using an electroencephalogram found that in the thalamus, a region deep in the brain that processes incoming visual and auditory stimuli, has pulses known as sleep spindles. Sleep experts don’t know why some people are born with more spindles than others, but those with more spindles are able to sleep through the night without waking to external stimuli than those with fewer spindles. Research can now measure the number of spindles a light sleeper has and determine their sensitivity to sound. In turn, they recommend the individual to eliminate noise by way of wearing ear plugs or if traveling request a hotel room away from the ice machine or elevator. Other treatment options are expected in the coming years through drugs that can manipulate the number of spindles or other alternative interventions. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that light sleepers can benefit if they have a set sleep schedule where they go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day which will improve the quality and quantity of their sleep. If light sleep is causing insomnia other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy may be adviced to teach them good sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques.

Not all light sleepers are born this way; some develop this sleep pattern as they age. Older adults require the same or slightly less (6.5 to 7) hours of sleep per night, but they find it harder to fall asleep, wake more often and spend less time in bed. Often older adults convert to a biphasic sleep pattern, like toddlers, they sleep 5 to 6 hours during the night then take a 1 to 2 hour nap in the afternoon. Less time spent in sleep means less time in deep sleep equates to not allowing your body and mind to refresh itself. In turn, this can lead to other health concerns like heart disease or depression along with other sleep disorders. The sleep disorder insomnia is one of the most common with the elderly along with narcolepsy, hypersomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. Many awakenings may be caused by the need to urinate, anxiety or pain associated with a chronic illness. Older people feel they are sleep deprived even though they still get the same amount of sleep they did when they were younger.

Older adults require a doctor’s care when it comes to taking sleep medication as it may interfere with other medications or health issues as well as causing risky side effects and a dependency. Avoid prescription or over-the-counter medications sleep aides, if possible. Remember that some other drugs can cause an inability to fall asleep. If you feel your medication is causing a sleep problem consult with your doctor as he may change medication, alter the dose or have you take it at a different time of day.

Some lifestyle changes may also help like avoiding stimulants and eating/drinking foods with tryptophan an amino acid with sedative like properties improve your ability fall asleep faster. Limit liquids if night time urinating is a problem. Control the noise in your bedroom by using ear plugs or listening to sounds that induce sleep rather than sounds that wake you up such as; white noise, fan or even a self hypnotic CD. Consistent non-repetitive sound waves can block out abrupt unpredictable noises or your partners snoring when using earplugs. If you were born a light sleeper or developed this sleeping pattern as an older adult these are a few of the ways to help you get a better night’s sleep until scientists design a drug that will enhance your spindles.

The content provided in Light Sleeper…I was born this way is for information purposes only, intended to raise the awareness of different solutions for you or your families sleep problems and should not be considered medical advice. For medical diagnosis and treatment, please see your qualified health-care professional.

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