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I didn't know sleep could do that. Did you?




I am not going to start with a normal hook to capture your attention. Instead, I am going to jump right into some scenarios and I would like for you to try and guess the answer (in your head, though if you would like to share your answers, feel free to as well). The scenarios will always depict someone who has a condition of some sort. Your answer will be WHY they have that condition. Here is a trial scenario for you to get a sense of what I mean. Pretend you are a doctor and the scenarios are patients telling you what their symptoms are. Diagnose them.


Trial Scenario: Gyasi has been having a hard time concentrating on his tasks throughout the day. He thinks everything is normal, but you can see he is slumped over and his eyes look quite red. Why might Gyasi be feeling this way?


Trial Answer: He is not getting enough sleep. With more sleep, concentration improves.


THE ANSWER WILL ALWAYS BE RIGHT BELOW THE SCENARIO. TRY NOT TO LOOK AT THE ANSWER ACCIEDNTALLY AND REALLY TRY TO THINK ABOUT WHY THESE SYMPTOMS ARE ARISING.


Okay, now let’s do it for real.


Scenario 1: Anneli is a dependable person. She shows up to work on time every day (well, with just a few exceptions). She started going down the rabbit hole of what implications there are for Elon Musk buying Twitter. She hasn’t been able to sleep her normal 7.5 hours and has been only been getting about 4 hours of sleep a night. Anneli even ended up missing work Thursday and Friday. What might be happening?


Answer 1: Sleep is a reason for absenteeism. No, not just sleeping in accidentally or something like that. Rather, inadequate sleep leads people to decide to not or forgot to show up. This means, when you aren’t getting adequate sleep, you are more likely to just…not show up anymore. This has mostly been studied in the context of work and school.


Scenario 2: Akira is a generally healthy person. At least until this last year happened. After some time, in 2021, he started losing weight without intending to lose weight, started feeling tired, and have pretty dry skin. He thinks he is drinking enough water, but still feels thirsty. This is even more frustrating because then he often has to get up at night to use the restroom. He thought he was doing everything right, but he does know that he also became a part of an online dungeons and dragons community. They are in a different timezone and Akira ends up having to stay up way later than he should. This past year, although exciting, has really eaten away at his normal sleep schedule. Do you think you know how these things are all related?


Answer 2: Diabetes can be caused by lack of sleep. When your body isn’t getting sleep, it can’t control the paths necessary for insulin production and release as well as general metabolism that is necessary to process sugars. This is also tied to the excess stress on your body. Your body is less likely to spend time on digestive functions while stressed.


Scenario 3: Joyce was having a normal day. She was of course a little tired from this past week, but didn’t make too much of it. She noticed she stayed in bed more often than usual in the morning. Then, one day, she started to feel a little numb in her face and couldn’t really see the TV screen in front of her. She got up to get water, but started to feel really confused. She stumbles over to the phone to call for help, all the while feeling very off. If a doctor saw this, what might they say?


Answer 3: Sleep is also implicated in strokes. But, it is actually maybe the reverse of what we normally think. When we sleep TOO MUCH, that is when people are more likely to experience a stroke. That is, people that sleep 9-9.5+ hours a night are more likely. This all may be related to the idea of having too much of a sedentary lifestyle (you don’t walk around enough), leading to possible blockages and hardening of toxins that need to be flushed out of our system.


Scenario 4: Valeria has been overworked and stressed for the past month. She tries to catch a break, but the more she works, the more she starts to feel pretty down and low-energy. Her concentration is withering away and sometimes she really starts to negatively compare herself to her coworkers, who all seem to be so happy and productive. Valeria used to come home, happy to engage in her old hobby of being a DJ. This past month, she hasn’t DJ’ed even once. What’s happening?


Answer 4: Sleep and depression go hand-in-hand. We often think of depression being the cause for sleep issues, but actually, it can very much work in the opposite direction. When we aren’t able to sleep, our cognitive abilities are diminished, immune function lowers, hormones can be become imbalanced, and quite a bit more. We are also less likely to see friends and family while being sleep deprived! For many reasons, sleep may actually cause depression (but it is complex and can happen a lot of ways as well; there is no one single route to depression and no one single symptom that is caused by depression).


Scenario 5: Paul has been wanting to get back into being active since COVID really made him into a couch potato. However, he hasn’t done much in the past 2 years and now, when he tries to go out for a walk, he starts to feel chest pain, a lightheadedness, nausea, and shortness of breath. Other times, he grabs his arm that is in discomfort. He talks to his doctor about it all. What do you think the doctor could say?


Answer 5: Sleep is also a potential cause of Coronary Heart Disease. This increase in heart disease happens with both too little sleep and too much sleep. Because sleep issues also relate to things like obesity, hypertension/high blood pressure, and diabetes, it makes sense that heart disease is also likely. In general, there is too much stress on the heart causing it to decrease in efficiency. It doesn’t pump blood the same way meaning there is less oxygen going to where it needs to go.


I’ll also say that, of course, with any of these, there are (at least) 2 other things to keep in mind. 1). With sleep problems likely come other lifestyle choices that are not always the best for your health. 2). Sleep likely isn’t the only reason any of these conditions started, but it is something to look into and be extra careful about especially if you are diagnosed with any of these conditions.


However, it is undeniable that people that have sleep problems also are at higher risk for any and all of these conditions. It may not be now, but these effects add up in 5, 10, 20 years.


Also, none of this is to scare you. You know your sleep habits. You know how you feel when you are getting the right amount vs when you sleep too much or too little. You know how your body feels and your mind feels. The more important point I am trying to make is, if you are feeling off for any reason, it is worth your time to think about how you have been sleeping.


Until next time.


-Alex


Citation: Chokroverty, S. (2010). Overview of sleep & sleep disorders. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 131(2), 126-140. PMID: 20308738.




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