Sleep & Mood Disorders

How many hours did you sleep last night? For many of us, the answer is not enough.

Lack of quality sleep negatively impacts the way we think, the way we feel and our ability to manage physical, mental and emotional stress. Sleep deprivation can even reduce our reasoning, ability to concentrate and reaction time, in a similar way to that of excessive alcohol consumption.

Sleep is vital to our quality of life and also to our health, but for many of us good quality sleep is towards the bottom of our priority list; muscled out by other considerations like work, family obligations and social commitments.

Why is sleep important?

Good quality sleep allows our minds to rest and recalibrate, and our bodies to heal and repair. Without sleep our immune systems cannot work efficiently and ongoing sleep deficiency can result in the body being unable to fight off common infections.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “…. sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.”

Matthew Walker, director at University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science links sleep deprivation to a range of serious health issues including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity, and poor mental health.

He describes the implications of long term sleep deprivation as being “catastrophic”.

The sleep cycle

We experience the deepest slumber during the first three hours of getting to sleep. This deep sleep is called Slow Wave Sleep.  After this initial period of deep sleep we enter a period known as Rapid Eye Movement sleep, or REM. It’s during REM sleep that we have vivid dreams.

Throughout the night we alternate between, Slow Wave Sleep and REM sleep in cycles of approximately 90 minutes. If we don’t get enough uninterrupted amounts of both slow wave and REM sleep, we wake feeling tired and irritable.

How much sleep do we need?

According to the Australian Sleep Foundation, how much sleep we need depends on our age. Toddlers for example need between 11-14 hour, while primary school-aged children need between 9-11 hours. Teenagers need 8-10 hours while adults should aim for between 7-9 hours a day.

Causes of sleep deprivation

So why do some people have so much trouble falling asleep, while others can nod-off on a hard bench in the middle of Flinders Street Station? There are obvious causes of poor sleep – too much coffee, stress, illness, a snoring partner or a newborn baby in the house – however there are other reasons that might be preventing you from a long visit to land of nod:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnoea – People with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea wake often during the night due to breathing difficulties caused by soft, floppy and narrowed airways. The constant broken sleep inhibits good sleep rhythms.
  • Too much blue screen – if you’re having trouble getting to sleep, you may want to consider banning yourself from looking at the screens of smart phones, tablets, laptops and computers a couple of hours before you head to bed. A number of studies have shown than the blue light radiating from these kinds of devices sends a signal to our brains, via our eyes, that messes with our circadian rhythms and can prevent sleep.
  • Alcohol – yes alcohol makes you sleepy initially however it’s also disruptive to REM sleep – the part of the sleep cycle that produces dreams and plays a big part in cell restoration and repair. Put 2-3 hours between your last drink and your bedtime and your chances of getting a good night’s rest will be greatly improved.
  • Sleep Hypoventilation – this disorder affects people who have weakened lungs and muscles needed for breathing due to a lung condition, obesity or other morbidity. Sleep Hypoventilation prevents the sufferer from breathing properly during sleep and can lead to heart failure if left unchecked.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome – restless leg syndrome compels the sufferer to move there legs constantly to avoid an uncomfortable feeling that won’t go away. This feeling can often get worse during the night, preventing the sufferer from getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Melatonin – Melatonin is the ‘sleep hormone’. Its production is usually triggered in the evening, when we’re tired, unwinding from the day, and looking forward to bed. It triggers the brain to start the process of sleep and without it we have trouble getting to sleep A study conducted by the Charité Universitätsmedizin in Berlin found that melatonin increased a person’s REM sleep and normalised circadian rhythms – two of the most important factors in achieving quality sleep.
  • Some medications – some common medications used to treat everything from colds and asthma to heart disease can sometimes contain ingredients that block melatonin production (the hormone that signals to our brain that it’s time to sleep) or disrupt REM sleep. Some may also contain caffeine. It may pay to ask your doctor about whether your medication could be affecting your sleep. If so, your doctor will be able to recommend an alternative or give you a script for a compounded form of your medication – one that doesn’t contain caffeine or anti-sleep ingredients.
  • ot enough Vitamin D – More than one study has shown that people with low levels of Vitamin D often suffer from poor sleep and that increasing the level of Vitamin D in the body through Vitamin D3 supplements brings about an improvement in sleep quality.
  • Not enough exercise – We all know that after a day full of strenuous physical activity, we’re more tired than usual. However surprisingly little large-scale clinical research has been conducted on the relationship between exercise and sleep quality. While all forms of exercise are known to be beneficial in achieving a good night’s rest, some small studies have shown that weight-training in particular is helpful in improving both the quality and duration of sleep.


How we can help

If you’re experiencing difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep first speak to you doctor about what might be causing the problem. In some cases it may be as simple as changes to diet and lifestyle. In other cases cognitive therapy or medications might be recommended.

NCC.Health can make up sleep disorder medications in specific doses tailored to your needs – as a tablet, troche or liquid if you’d prefer.