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Sleep Deprivation: Causes, Effects, and Tips to Fix It
By: Eric Finger, PT, OCS, FAAOMPT
When it comes to improving our overall health, one area that gets commonly overlooked is the quality and quantity of our sleep. Too often people put more focus on the number of miles they ran, calories they burned, or the number of repetitions of a dumbbell they lifted. Sleep deprivation is more common than you think. Reports show that 70% of adults report that they obtain insufficient sleep at least one night a month, and 11% report insufficient sleep every night. What researchers are finding is that sleep deprivation not only affects our moods and energy levels but also the amount of pain we experience and the rate of healing from an injury.
So why do so many Americans suffer from sleep deprivation and what can be done to help fix it?
To answer this I sat down with local Austin physician Dr. Brynna Connor, M.D. to find out why we’re so challenged with our sleep and some of the detrimental effects of it.
Check out our interview below to learn how you can improve your sleep and overall health
Why are we so sleep-deprived and what are some of the consequences of it?
Eric, thanks for asking the question because so many people come into my office and are having sleep issues(sleep deprivation) for one reason or another. I think as a society we are so stressed we push so hard and we have such expectations and as a consequence when we decide priority wise, you know there is only 24/hours in every day. When we decided priority-wise what gets sacrificed often at times it is sleep. Then you enter in the stress of various forms: anxiety: the year 2020: small children: the stress of familial relationships: job stress: less exercise and that’s your realm big time with PT in terms of teaching people how to properly move their bodies and muscular-skeletal system. We just aren’t doing it as a society. I think our country is probably more sleep-deprived than most because we don’t place a strong, strong emphasis on the beauty of sleep in the circadian rhythm, and the benefit that it has for anyone and everyone both, adults and children.
From a physical therapy standpoint, I was just reading last night for example for knee pain, I was reading an article on Runners Knee or Kneecap pain and what I was taught in school 20-years ago “Oh, it’s biomechanical issues and weakness and such” but we’re finding out that isn’t so true. Really what we need to be asking some of our folks, our runners, and folks with this knee pain is, how well are you sleeping?
That’s huge and it goes both ways, because from a PT standpoint if you have somebody who’s in pain due to an injury, trauma, or poor from with walking, running, or exercise then they get pain.
Then when they get chronic pain or there is an issue that needs to be addressed from a PT standpoint then their sleep suffers because they are in pain. So, it really is a catch-all sort of catch-22, one can be led to the other, the other back to it so it’s a combination of many factors. Unfortunately, sleep is one thing that is not placed as a high priority when you enter all of those other factors: stress: pain: job: hours: children: spouse: extend family, and being a care provider, there are so many different things that go into a 24/hour day for people that sleep is often sacrificed.
What are your top three tips on helping folks achieve better sleep?
It’s interesting, challenging and it’s very rewarding because when people are sleeping better obviously everything else is better. I really try and meet people where they are in terms of philosophy and what they are interested in doing rather, than prescribing a medication that’s just going to block some pathways and add a pharmaceutical component to life and getting to the root cause of what is happening.
We talk of course, about sleep hygiene we talk about what is happening in the bedroom we talk about screen time we talk about that pattern of going to bed around the same time every night if you can because your body has this innate sense of the circadian rhythm. It really makes a difference and it takes a while for people to sort of embrace all of those things and to be fair, I was one of them many years ago or no that far back, but like “Oh, really that doesn’t matter I can just sacrifice more sleep and it doesn’t matter about this sleep hygiene routine, calming, and pattern but it makes such a difference. So, once that patient embraces that whole idea and changes lifestyle modifications as we call it in PT and medicine, I’m sure, which is very similar then all of a sudden things are better.
It takes a while-it didn’t get there overnight no pun intended, it didn’t happen overnight it takes months or years for sleep deprivation to develop. The issue becomes so problematic that some people seek help for it. So, the solution also takes a while and takes time to readjust and it may take weeks or months for it to re-adjust so that the patient then changes a lot of what they’re doing at the end of their day.
Should we take our phones to bed with us?
I talk to teenagers and college students about this quite a bit because they are so attached to, they’re smartphones, iPhones, and iPads they’re screens and they are having anxiety and sleep issues. These are kids that are 18, 19 & 20-years old you know so we have to really change the thought process. Another big component is what else is happening in the bedroom really and truly? I talk to my patients about the bedroom is for sleep and sex only no TV so get rid of your TV. A lot of people are used to falling asleep to a TV show and then they get up at 3 or 4 AM and the TV has this bright light and they go and turn it off or remote, but it does affect sleep. It affects sleep onset and it affects the duration of sleep and reduces that midnight or middle of the night awakenings if people are able to have the bedroom for specific things only and get technology out of there.
I like the point that you brought up how you look at it with your patients and you don’t just have a cookie-cutter approach your looking at the entire person and finding out what will work best for them. I appreciate that I think that’s so key instead of just saying “Do this, this, & this.”
I agree because you can tell people what they should do but come on let’s think about what is realistic. I talk to people who may travel so they are also dealing with jetlag and different time zones. I deal with people who might be a caregiver for a parent or small children now at home and the scheduling and all of that and they are working from home also, especially this year which is unlike any other, and sleep has really taken a hit and people and people are really suffering. If we don’t get proper sleep we can’t think clearly and we’re much more irritable.
I know there are some Meditation Apps out there and I’ve played with some of them and it helps. So, we just talked about not having the cell phone near the bed, but for those folks that have to use it as their alarm clock are there any Apps to maybe help with sleep, or are you against that?
No, I’m not against that in fact I love them. If their phone is their alarm clock or they have an Alexa next to the bed or in the bedroom or something like that there are great Apps like:
- Sleep stories App (people telling stories in nice bedtime story voice)
Some of these are better than others and people will find their preference but it reminds you of when you were a small child and your grandparent was reading to your or your parent or babysitter, or somebody was reading to you hopefully because it’s just so soothing. There are many famous people who have very famous voices reading these bedtime stories. They are not just bedtime stories there are also documentary stories and it’s really fascinating but they are all stories that are so soothing that sometimes you wake up the next morning and you didn’t get to finish the story, and it’s like “What happened in the story?” But those are great. Then there are the noise machines and fans and a lot of people have a problem going to sleep if it’s completely silent or staying asleep because they may have noise in their home or they are easily awakened by some noise, dog, scratching or a child moving around which doesn’t require their attention. So, there’s just sort of noise to sort of mute that a little or at least make it not so obvious then they will stay asleep.
Dr. Connor is board certified in Family Medicine and is a diplomat of the American Academy of Anti-aging & Regenerative Medicine. Learn more about her and her practice at https://doctorconnor.com/