A good night's sleep is a critical component of being and staying well. Studies demonstrate that interrupted sleep patterns have detrimental effects on the immune system leaving one more susceptible to infections and other illnesses. Chronic sleep deficits can produce body pain that is identical to the debilitating syndrome called fibromyalgia.
Sleep deprivation is epidemic in our society. Reasons for this include ever-increasing sources of stress and stimulation (like the 24 hour news cycle and addiction to email and internet), the need to keep up with the global economy, and ever mounting stresses and demands on our lives.
Hormonal changes (such as menopause) often produce sleep disruption due to night sweats and hot flashes as well as do the effects of estrogen deprivation on the brain. Men who experience low testosterone can also have problems with sleep.
Pain syndromes can interrupt a healthy sleep pattern due to the inability to lie in a comfortable position and the resultant pain waking the person up. This results in a vicious circle with the patient unable to sleep well due to the pain, but a classic problem of poor sleep is increasing pain. Thus the patient is trapped in a loop of pain and sleeplessness.
A very common problem is sleep apnea, which literally means not breathing during sleep. In this condition the flow of oxygen into the lungs is interrupted so much that the patient is practically suffocating. This lack of oxygen is terrible for the brain, the heart and the rest of the body. This is usually due to extra tissue blocking the airway but can be due to brain malfunction so that the normal control of breathing while we sleep is disrupted. People with sleep apnea are usually exhausted during the day, frequently have trouble losing weight, and are at risk for other medical issues including heart disease.
Finally thyroid and adrenal issues can cause sleep problems. There are people who are exhausted all day long, but as night comes they actually begin to have a surge of energy and cannot sleep.
Without good sleep there is no way to function at our peak or feel our best. Sleep issues must be approached from the perspective of the whole individual, looking at their environment, lifestyle, diet, family history, habits, as well as their hormonal and nutritional status. In most cases a big difference can be made with both their sleep and overall health.