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. Be greatful for the comfy king size mattress you get to sleep on each night.
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.