“Dad, is there a disease called bursitis number 9?”
It was about 6:00 am, and he was in the bathroom shaving before going to work. I was five years old and woke up, disturbed about a dream that my dad had a very serious disease by that name. I was upset and wanted to know if my dad was sick with Bursitis Number 9.
“There’s 8 and 10 but no 9,” he replied. My Dad always had a great sense of humor.
I went back to bed, relieved that he did not have the disease, and fell asleep. When I got up later and ate my breakfast, my mom and brothers stared at me as if I had two heads. They asked me if I had bursitis. I did not know what they were talking about—I had sleepwalked and did not remember a thing!
I had one or two other sleepwalking experiences later that year and, again, did not remember anything. Then, I slept without sleepwalking again. I think!
Sleepwalking occurs when there is a dissociation between “body sleep” and “mind sleep.” It is defined as a parasomnia—an undesired event that occurs during sleep. Sometimes sleepwalking involves just the action of walking for a short period and it is mostly harmless. Other times, however, sleepwalking may involve doing additional actions such as eating, talking, using the bathroom, and even driving. For this reason, it can be dangerous. These sleepwalking facts will help you better understand this fascinating phenomenon:
According to FACTY Health, sleepwalking is more common in childhood than in adulthood. Children in the age group of 3 to 12 have the highest prevalence of sleepwalking. Up to 16.7% of children in this age group sleepwalk. As people reach teenager-hood and adulthood, they are less likely to sleepwalk. A 1997 sleepwalking study published in The Journal of Neurology consisted of 11,220 subjects aged 33 to 60 years. The study found that sleepwalking had occurred in 3.9% of adult men and 3.1% of women. Also found was that those who reported sleepwalking in childhood were more likely to sleepwalk during adulthood. Adult men sleepwalkers had an 88.9% positive history of sleepwalking in childhood, and in women, 84.5%.
Nowadays, I usually wake up once a night to take a pill or visit the bathroom. I usually can fall back to sleep, but sometimes I am up for hours. I spoke with my doctor, and it seems medications or stress keeps me awake.
I am not alone in having trouble sleeping. Millions of people do not get a good night’s sleep for a number of reasons. Just looking at the over-the-counter variety of sleep-helping pills can attest to that fact. Sometimes medications can interrupt our sleep patterns. Others might be anxious about problems or stresses in their daily lives. Sleep problems might occur for a short period of time—while we are dealing with a specific problem or adjusting to new surroundings, etc.
Sleep is a critical part of our overall health, far better than any pill we can take to cure whatever ails us. The fact is, everyone experiences occasional sleep problems, but getting a good night’s sleep is essential for feeling refreshed and alert during the day.
Lack of sleep might make you feel foggy and unable to concentrate, or just a lesser version of your normal self. Sleep problems will eventually disrupt your work, family, and personal relationships.
Sleep is not merely a “time out” from our busy routines; it is essential for good health, mental and emotional functioning, and safety. For instance, researchers have found that people with chronic insomnia are more likely than others to develop several kinds of psychiatric problems and are likely to make greater use of healthcare services.
Insomnia can mean trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or waking too early in the morning. It’s not a matter of how long you sleep (not everyone needs the same amount) but whether you feel rested when you awake. Sometimes an underlying health problem can keep you awake, or a mental health problem. It also can be the result of loud noises, an uncomfortable mattress, or a snoring spouse.
The National Sleep Foundation, whose motto is, “Waking America to the Importance of Sleep,” reports that when we sleep well, we wake up feeling refreshed and alert for our daily activities. Sleep affects how we look, feel, and perform on a daily basis, and can have a major impact on our overall quality of life.
To get the most out of our sleep, both quantity and quality are important. Teens need at least 8½ hours—and on average 9½ hours—a night of uninterrupted sleep to leave their bodies and minds rejuvenated for the next day. If sleep is cut short, the body does not have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation, and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. Then we wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully in school and social activities.
Many organizations offer tips for getting better sleep. Having a routine like going to bed at a regular time and limiting or eliminating naps is a good start. Before going to bed, try a restful routine like taking a warm shower, praying, or getting a massage or back rub. Keep your bedroom a peaceful sanctuary. Avoid harsh lights and keep the temperature in your bedroom cool. Play a relaxing CD. Some people use “white noise” machines that can be restful. Aromatherapy works for some people, and the use of a tart burner or oil diffuser is a great way to get those calming smells into your room. (It’s also safer than burning a candle when you fall asleep.)
If you have tried improving your sleep and are not successful, ask your physician for help. There are many sleep disorders that might need the help of a physician. These can include the following:
Insomnia is itself often a symptom of other problems. Typical patterns of insomnia include the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, waking up earlier than usual, and daytime fatigue. Most people with insomnia do not fall asleep in inappropriate situations, like driving. If this does occur, it may signal that a medical disorder (such as sleep apnea) is the cause of insomnia.
Excessive daytime sleepiness is the primary symptom of sleep apnea. Some people will deny sleepiness but feel fatigued. Other symptoms are snoring, snorting, and gasping sounds when you sleep—often first noticed by a sleeping partner. Restless or unrefreshing sleep is also typical, as are headaches in the morning.
Excessive sleepiness during the day, alleviated by naps, is a symptom of narcolepsy. Dreaming during naps and experiencing dream-like hallucinations as you fall asleep are also warning signs. Loss of muscle control (called cataplexy) that occurs with emotion, such as laughing or anger, and the inability to move as you are going to sleep or waking up (called sleep paralysis) are also symptoms.
Restless leg syndrome
Approximately one in ten adult Americans suffer from restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. The primary warning sign is the irresistible urge to move your legs shortly after you get into bed, in the middle of the night after awakening, or even when wide awake during the day. It usually feels better if you get up to walk around or rub your leg. “Creepy-crawly” or twitching feelings in your calves, feet, thighs, or arms are symptoms of restless leg syndrome—The sensations of discomfort can be quite varied. Kicking or twitching leg movements during sleep, and sometimes while awake, may be warning signs.
Call your doctor if:
- Your sleep does not improve with self-help techniques, such as establishing good sleep hygiene, cutting down on caffeine, exercising, and using relaxation techniques.
- You think your sleep problems may be related to an underlying condition, such as depression or heart failure.
- You snore loudly or make snorting or gasping noises while you sleep—or your partner observes these things while you’re asleep.
- You fall asleep doing normal activities, such as talking or driving. You regularly feel unrefreshed on awakening and are constantly fatigued. Sleep disorders are among the many possible causes for fatigue.
- You suspect your medication is causing your sleep problems.❦