I never cease to be amazed at the similarities of people from all over the world, every ethnicity, every country, and how small the world has become making it easier to learn about each other. I was recently in Kyoto, Japan, and was stopped on the street by a gentleman who wished to welcome me to his city. It turned out that he was educated in the U.S. at the same schools that I was. He had recently retired as Professor of English Language and Semantics at the University of Kyoto. As we spoke of many things, including medicine, he asked questions regarding sleeping pills, sleep disturbances, and alcohol relating to whether these represented character deficiencies and weaknesses (as one would consider when looking at most literature).
Actually, this is a very important topic. Despite the new development of sleep laboratories and sleep studies we know very little about the subject. Indeed, even the newest and most expensive of our tests is unable to predict when a person in a coma will wake up, or when we will fall asleep. We do know, however, the importance of the effects of sleep. Here are a few little facts that might be of interest:
- Animal studies have proven that a heart attack is more likely to be fatal if it occurs while awake rather then asleep.
- During sleeping hours our heart rate ordinarily decreases, as does the blood pressure. In those in whom it doesn't decrease, the risk of heart attack and stroke are higher.
- Failure to sleep is associated with a higher incidence of heart attacks, strokes and arrhythmias.
- Workers that switch shift hours frequently are more prone to mistakes and illnesses due to their interrupted sleep schedules.
- East-West travel is more disruptive of sleep patterns than North-South travel and is probably associated with more illness, and takes more time to overcome.
- Abnormalities of sleep patterns are common in certain medical disorders (pulmonary-sleep apnea, Pickwickian syndrome; endocrine- thyroid dysfunction, perimenopause; post anesthesia, trauma or surgery; psychiatric-depression; neurologic-dysautonomia, concussion, grieving, etc).
- Use of alcohol, depressants, antidepressants, and agents to affect sleep may do so but will not attenuate the harmful effects of too much or too little sleep, and does cause serious side effects and addictions.
- The repeated use of medications to promote sleep can actually increase the problem of insomnia and enable insomnia to become a chronic problem
- Exercise has a powerful affect on sleep. Performed at night in an effort to avoid insomnia, it enervates and prevents sleep; performed in the morning or afternoon, it promotes restful sleep
The professor noted that one of his relatives had been troubled by insomnia after a death in the family. No pills were used, but after a time an exercise program of calisthenics and swimming caused the problem to abate exhibiting the usual diminution of the effects of grief over time on our autonomic system, and the beneficial effect of daily physical exertion on the sleep cycle.