My sleep deprivation experience and why sleep is important
3 weeks ago in the midst of a major heat wave here in New York City, after a “normal” day at the clinic, I attempted to walk my way to urgent care. Except, I did not make it.
I was only two block away when I decided to call the ambulance to take me to the Emergency Room.
What happened? I’m suppose to be Dr. Health.
I was feeling run down 3 days prior and developed a low grade fever. That was not alarming as I was glad a fever developed. An occasional fever is a good thing as it can stimulate the immune system, force us to slow down , drink more fluids and get more rest.
I developed a sharp pain on my left side of my chest with shortness of breath on any exertion. The faster I walked the less I could breath. At this point, the thoughts that went through my head were” Left chest pain, Shortness of breath and fever – ER.”
All is good and back to normal now. I was diagnosed with a small infection in my lung that was treated with antibiotics.
This is the first time I have taken any medication, prescription or over-the-counter, in 14 years. Sure I felt like a loser. This all happened on a Thursday, rescheduled my Friday patients and rested Friday and Saturday. Sunday, I was out on the court playing basketball.
Thinking back, 4 hours of sleep a night for about 7 days in a row was probably the culprit. I typically need 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night.
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
– Ernest Hemingway
The Importance of Sleep
I find it ridiculous when people brag about how little sleep they need; ” Oh I only need 3 or 4 hours a night and I am good.” There’s nothing good about that. That is a recipe for disaster.
This recent article in the New York TImes points out that sleep deprivation leads to eating more and gaining weight.
Sleep is essential for a healthy immune system. More people get sick when they are sleep deprived – proven from my personal experience. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to chronic disease.
In Prostate Cancer , Sleep and deprivation and shift work significantly increases the risk of the disease. (Sigurdardottir et al. 2012)
With pelvic pain, Painful Bladder Syndrome / Interstitial Cystitis and Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular health sleep deprivation and sleep apnea worsens the symptoms.
Doggy Bag message and What to do
1. If you are a good sleeper, don’ t take it for granted. There are many people who are not
2. We all can tolerate a few days of little sleep. There are times when we have to work a little longer or tend to babies. Chronic sleep deprivation though, is a problem.
3. Go to a sleep clinic if you have sleep problems. They will evaluate you and provide the proper therapy if needed.
4. If the problem is a racing mind (rumination), write your thoughts down on paper. Or better yet, type them on your smartphone – that’ s how we do it in the 21st century 🙂 Most of the times you don’t want to forget your “to do list” for the next day.
5. Practice transition time. Transition time is a method where you ease your way from morning time (yang) to nighttime (yin). Shut down the computer. Take a warm bath. Drink chamomile tea. Spray some lavender oil around your bed. Read a relaxing book.
6. Try acupuncture. Although sleep problems is not my specialty per se, I have helped many people improve their sleep patterns with acupuncture.
7. Try melatonin, especially when traveling to a different time zone or if you work night-shift hours. Melatonin can balance out circadian rhythms.
8. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol 5 hours of bedtime. These may interfere with your ability to get deep sleep.
9. Exercise in the morning helps with sleep at night – especially if done outdoors. Avoid strenuous exercise 5 hours before bedtime
10. Make your last meal the lightest and have it 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Big meals at night interfere with quality sleep.
If you diligently follow these tips – you will once again train your body to sleep like a baby.
I hope this helps. Let us know how you do.
Lara G. Sigurdardottir, Unnur A. Valdimarsdottir, Katja Fall, Jennifer R. Rider, Steven W. Lockley, Eva S. Schernhammer, Lorelei A. Mucci;Circadian Disruption, Sleep Loss and Prostate Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review of Epidemiological Studies; Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2012 July; 21(7): 1002–1011.