Cause or symptom? Unraveling the science of sleep

Sleep… a symptom or a cause?

*If you want to read the preface to this article (which explains what happened to me -the bloodwork, the symptoms, etc) and see WHY I was reading this article, please read the following introduction that I wrote.. if you want to get into the scientific goodness then just skip it-

As you’ve probably gathered from reading previous posts, I’ve had major sleeping issues in the past and recently, that evidently left me tired and drained during the day. I always felt like I was just on the verge of being able to pass out. I would black out when I stood up. I had NO energy and existed soley on caffiene. (sidenote: I still do that anyway- coffee is delicious). To make a long story short, I got some bloodwork done, everything was perfect, but she recommended me to go to a sleep specialist neurologist guy to get a consultation. She said there were 4 types of sleep disorders- none of which I fit in to because I can FALL asleep, I just don’t STAY asleep. I wake up very easily and feel like I’m always on the brink of wakefulness. I’ve studied sleep (not officially, just in my own time through research) for years and years because it’s just.. well.. bugged me. I knew I didn’t fit into the regular categories either. There’s sleep apnoea (yes, it occurs in people both big and small) which I KNEW I didn’t have, sleep wakefullness (narcolepsy) which I don’t have because I can’t fall asleep to save my life in the daytime or even nap… insomnia- which I don’t have because I can actually fall asleep at night, and idiopathic sleep disorder, which is what I evidently DO have. If you haven’t caught on, she totally made that last category up. It’s where they stick people that have weird sleep symptoms that they haven’t yet been able to classify. I like to say it’s the “what the hell is THAT” category. I have such a shallow sleep that I’ve speculated I don’t entireley hit REM sleep for however many cycles I should be going through. Maybe the sleep neurologist can tell me. With all the research I’ve done, I’m pretty sure I was able to diagnose myself. Lol. Anyway, that’s why I’m writing about this article.

When you think of sleep disorders or problems, do you automatically assume that they’re a symptom or a cause? When people have other physical ailments, mental disorders perhaps, do you attribute a sleep issue to those problems? Where do sleep disorders come from? What triggers them?

Those questions are what we all are asking and wondering… but what if the answer doesn’t lie in the research we’re performing? This article, entitled “Sleep well, stay sane” in New Scientist can open your eyes and really make you wrap your brain around the findings they exhibit. It’s like the looking glass; what if sleep disorders are causing these other disorders and not vice versa? We’ve always been treating sleep issues as a symptom; what if it’s a cause? The article introduces us to the idea that poor sleep may be causing some psychiatric problems, and people are being treated with prescriptions as if they HAVE that illness, when it’s merely an ailment of poor sleeping. Millions [including children] could possibly be taking psychoactive drugs to cure an illness that they don’t even have; it could only be the symptoms of a sleep abnormality. This is not only inherently dangerous, but also makes you analyze how exactly doctors prescribe medicine. Doctors have already crossed the boundaries and found that erratic sleep was indeed connected to plenty of disorders. Saying that poor sleep was a symptom was so crystal clear, and researchers/doctors so trusted that nobody even thought twice about it.

In one research study, presented by Clifford Risk, they took 34 adults who were diagnosed with sleep apnoea and did further tests on them. Of those 34, 16 of them had scores which implied a moderate/severe attention impairment. They would have been considered classic cases of ADD or ADHD. Once they started treating the sleep apnoea, there were substantial improvements in the results of their attention scores. The sleeping disorder was disrupting their attention. Had they gone to a doctor with those symptoms, they would have most likely prescribed them Ritalin after observing them. This study ALSO suggests that a sleep abnormality was causing the body to mimic the symptoms of another disorder. In other words, sleep was the cause, not the symptom.

Schizophrenia is considered somewhat of a medical mystery still to this day, because there are so many loose ends and unanswered questions. I’ve also read up on this disorder a lot. I won’t bore you with my musings (because it’s all so in and out, with the disorder, that we’d be talking in circles forever. Part of it is genetic, and if you’re related to somebody who has/had schizophrenia, you are more likely to develop it, however, the correct environment or atmosphere will trigger it, so not everybody with the gene will display symptoms and develop it. blah blah blah. It also goes into nature vs. nurture and all that good stuff. If you’re interested in it, click this link- Schizophrenia article 1 or this link- Schizophrenia article 2) It really is a fascinating disorder and I hope you decide to visit those sites. I totally got off track here, but I AM going somewhere with this. One common trait of somebody with schizophrenia is the inability to master “rote” tasks. One example would be operating machinery. Procedural learning [which is part way responsible for the ability to master such tasks] have a certain sleep dependent component. People with chronic schizophrenia cannot constantly improve such tasks overnight like people without the disorder. Lack of sleep can actually affect that component, therefore sprouting symptoms of schizophrenia. One might go to a doctor with such symptoms, along with the irritability, aloofness etc and may very well be a suspect of that disorder.

Stress hormone levels increase when you encounter sleep disruption. Having high stress levels produce anxiety during the day, which is common in MANY types of psychiatric disorders. Sleep issues can also interfere with the brain’s ability to react to emotional stimuli without being over the top of out of control. When you’re sleep deprived, your amygdala (the part of your brain that is emotionally reactive) is not communicating properly or effectively with the pre-frontal lobe, which is responsible for sending/controlling inhibitory signals to the emotional part of the brain. The inhibitor works just like it sounds- it gets in there and acts as a barrier, and “inhibits” that part to control what exactly it is doing. When this fails, it’s like opening a can of worms. Things can get out of control. Real fast.

While none of this is concrete as of yet, it’s a pretty damn good starting point for discovering what is really happening. I, of all people, know how important sleep is. If you read below (like the intro said) I have my own little story about what I suspect is going wrong with me. I’m malfunctioning. Lol. I know that not getting proper sleep can unearth a whole boat full of issues emotionally, physically, and mentally. Nothing is worse than “sleeping” for 9 hours and not ACTUALLY sleeping. I wake up feeling like I just fell asleep. My whole day is messed up. I guess you could say I feel like I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Evidently I slept on the wrong side as well.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was REALLY ecstatic to find this article. I had always felt as if a lack of gratifying and deep sleep was conducive to a lot of problems. I think it’s wonderful that researchers are finally looking into sleep as a cause, and not just a symptom. After all, sleep is the one of the most important cycles our body partakes in. You know, aside from the heart pumping blood through our veins, our brain waves, central nervous system etc. Sleep is the time when everything in our body is rehabilitated. It’s a spa day for our system that works with such clockwork that we don’t even realize what’s occurring in there. Sleep is important! How else will we rejuvenate and revive our body, day after day? I am so thankful for this article. You never realize how important something is until you see what happens when you’re lacking it.