Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
One of the most underestimated areas of good health is sleep. It plays a vital role in your well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep can protect your physical and mental health and quality of life. The way you feel while you’re awake depends in part on what happens while you’re sleeping.
What makes us sleep and wake up? We have an internal body clock called the circadian rhythm which has a 24-hour repeat rhythm cycle. Two processes interact to control this rhythm. The first is a pressure to sleep that builds every hour that you’re awake.
A compound called adenosine is linked to a drive for sleep. The level of adenosine rises while you’re awake. The increasing level signals a shift toward sleep. While you sleep, your body breaks down adenosine.
The second process involves your body’s internal clock which is in sync with certain environmental indicators. Light, darkness, and other signs determine when you feel awake and when you feel drowsy. Light signals received through your eyes communicate to the brain it is daytime. The brain helps align your body clock with periods of the day and night.
As darkness sets in, the body releases a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin signals your body that it’s time to prepare for sleep and it helps you feel drowsy. The amount of melatonin in your bloodstream peaks as the evening wears on. Researchers believe this peak is an important part of preparing your body for sleep. At sunrise the body releases cortisol a hormone that prepares your body to wake up.
From insomnia to hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleeping or excessive time sleeping), night terrors, to the misuse of sleep medications, neurologists that specialize in sleep disorders are seeing a large number of people whose lives have been turned upside down by challenges related to sleep during COVID-19.
Some are noticing varied sleep patterns because of fears for themselves and loved ones getting the virus, not being able to work, other stressors, and a lack of social interaction. More and more people are finding themselves dealing with chronic insomnia which is categorized by taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, at least three times a week, for more than three months.
Because many people were not leaving their homes at the onset of COVID-19, they were not getting daily exposure to sunlight resulting in interference with their internal clock. According to Neurology Today, between February and March 2020 — well before the surge of COVID-19 — the number of prescriptions filled for sleep disorders had increased by 14.8 percent compared with the same period in 2019.
Suggestions for managing changes in sleep pattern include relaxation techniques, staying active, controlling daytime napping, getting proper exposure to light, watching what you eat and drink, reserving your bed for sleep, and following a routine for waking and sleeping. If sleep patterns continue to be disrupted over a long period of time, contact your doctor to determine next best steps for your health.
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