Thursday, June 16, 2005

Chronic Insomnia: An American Problem?

I really do not enjoy reading about things and having them labeled an American problem, but there are definitely things that fall into this particular category. I thought I'd outline some of the exacerbating elements below. Here is the Article that spurred this post: Chronic Insomnia Baffles Sleeping Experts.

Hmm. Where to begin. WELL, let's start with the article. The article lists several causes including, but not limited to, fast-paced-life, menopause, prescription drugs, coffee, smoking alcohol, and major life-ending diseases. Well, that probably covers the gambit, but let's really consider the american population in general.

(Gluttony)We over eat. Have you seen the size of the portions they serve in the US? Can we say,"One plate would feed a small african village?" And it's not like ording a'la carte does any good, the food is already there and not going to Africa, that's for sure. And it's not just the portions served, but the fact that everyone EATS it all. It is ingrained in us, even in school, that you must clean your plate, that it is atrocious to not eat everything. Classic, "there are starving people in china/africa." Yeah, there are starving people in the US to, but me cleaning my plate does not get them food. *Focus* Okay, so we eat too much, and get in the habit of eating too much, so we engorge. It's not healthy.

Sugar. In particular, Americans eat outrageous portions of sugar and refined flour all the time. It is ridiculous, and killing us. The new kick for low carbs and whole grains is all well and good but these things are EXPENSIVE b/c the Sugar conglomerates and Lobbies are SO strong in the US. What I love to see is an obese person enjoying a diet coke with a slice of devil's food cake with chocolate frosting, or a double chocolate machiato with two Krispy Kreme's in the morning. I mean, seriously, on occasion you can do that stuff, but regularly you are just begging for a coronary. Sugar directly impacts your blood and usually acts as a stimulant, and can therefore mess with your sleep.

Caffein. A vicious accompanyist to sugar is our friend caffein. Caffein actually induces cravings for sugar. Not to mention that caffein is a direct and sustaining stimulant that can cause dependency and insomnia. If you really want to cut sugars from your diet, you should also quit the caffein.

(Sloth)We are stagnant. So not only do we drink the coffee to give us 'energy' and eat sugar for a 'pick-me-up' we don't do anything. Our bodies, as sick as it sounds, LIKE to be abused. It thrives when you do some consistent working out or cardio, walking or swimming, biking or lifting weights. If your body is almost always at a state of rest, how will it realy know when to calm down and go to sleep. Being active helps use, remove and replenish hormones vital to healthy sleep cycle. Believe me, I know, ever since I started lifting I've slept SO Much better. Even through law school. The only catch being that activity TOO close to bedtime may cause exhaustion, which robs the body of actual rem sleep, and may also cause insomina through release of endorphins and other exercise-induced hormones (including testosterone and phospodiasterase which, re viagra article, will definitely keep men awake).

Alcohol. Is never the way to cure insomnia. Alcohol likes to react with water in the body essentially evaporating what is there. This is a double whammy since we rarely take-in water as we consume alcohol. So we deplete the water and leave a HUGE need behind. This causes the hang-over when excessive. The interesting thing is that alcohol does act as a depressant but can be hard on your heart. Some alcohols, when reasonably consumed, help the heart like red wine (grape seed extract is GREAT for the heart). Some alcohol actually helps the system, similar to working out, but we are talking maybe a glass does the job (probably less). When you fall alseep drunk it is similar to passing out. Your body usually skips a rem cycle to focus on the rest of your body, and your body temp goes up. One of the major bodily defects humans have is the inability to regulate body heat when we sleep. When we drink, in particular, we sweat and usually have a higher body temp for 5 - 6 hours. This will cause you to sweat and be hot, then cool significantly. Huge change, not good for sleeping, it can shock the body and keep you from rem. Not good. No drinky before the bed !

Allergies. These cause major insomnia, especially noted in the spring. This is usually seasonal, and not considered part of chronic insomnia. If you KNOW you have seasonal allergies get treated, even if you think they are minor. Small allergies nag your body enough and put enough strain on it that they can cause insomnia and actually keep your body from REM sleep. Hence, you can wake up and not have actually 'rested' your mind, equating to no actual sleep.

Interesting part of insomnia. I actually had terrible insomnia when I was in undergrad. I was going through a ton of crap and I was uber stressed. I ended up averaging, and by average I mean add'em up and divide by total, 3 hours of sleep my sophmore AND junior year, even with meds. When I was home I would sleep 10 - 12 hours at a time, which was just not like me. I used to get most of my sleep from naps, and then be up most of the night. The thing I learned from my doctor though was that when you don't sleep stuff happens to you. For one, your reaction-time can reduce to that of being inebriated, puting you at risk for driving and functioning generally. This among other things, but in particular your "ladder of life functions" falls.

"Ladder of Life Functions." This was probably the most pedestrian, and functional, model of life functions I've ever heard. Basically you have a ladder of functions. At the top you usually have needs like food, clothes, water, shelter; then you have your maslowian needs, belonging, love, identity; then you have desires; then wants; and finally piddly stuff like do I want 5 pennies or a nickle. When you lose a significant amount of sleep over time your ladder essentially falls. Your mind no longer processes things in any 'order' as it should. I know this from experience, and the trouble is the most trivial things can seem life-important. This gets dangerous as everything becomes important and you can no longer delineate between tasks. Believe you me, it sucks. So in a sense insomnia is a vicious, collapsing, cycle that feeds on itself once it gets going too far.

I'm not sure that insomnia ISN"t an american problem, because it definitely is, but I don't think the problem isolates to the US. Interestingly I think other cultures handle it better, mostly because they eat better, are more active, and discriminate against sugar-based snacks. Even where they don't, like here in sweden where everyone's always in the candy and icecream, they are probably 20 - 40% more active even in every day life.


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