Don’t Sleep on a Good Night’s Rest

March 2, 2020

Almost 10% of adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, and while there is not concrete scientific evidence of how much sleep humans need it is evident that not getting enough can be detrimental to overall health, said Dr. Brittney Anderson.

Anderson, assistant professor of family, internal and rural medicine at the College of Community Health Sciences, said the exact consequences of not getting enough sleep are still being researched. Anderson also cares for patients at University Medical Center, which the College operates.

She spoke on the known effects of not enough sleep, such as lowered alertness and immune function as well as a higher risk of anxiety, depression, diabetes and cardiovascular disease during a presentation at The University of Alabama’s OLLI program.

During sleep, the human body does a lot of work to maintain the healthy functioning of its systems. The body repairs and revitalizes muscles and cells. Hormone secretion, especially in adolescents, occurs during sleep, Anderson said. Finally, and least well understood, is the synapse formation that occurs in the brain at night.

“Brain plasticity, cognitive function and memory storage are all impacted by sleep,” Anderson said. “Research is still being done to understand exactly how it happens.”

There are generally four stages of sleep, Anderson said: transitional, stable, deep and rapid eye movement. Individuals go through these stages many times throughout the night and the length of the cycle and how long a person stays in each stage vary greatly.

“Sleep disorders come in many forms and vary by individual,” Anderson said. “Two people might have insomnia, but the symptoms and triggers for each person can be vastly different.”

Behavioral intervention should be the first treatment for sleep disorders, Anderson said. Creating a good sleep environment, having a sleep schedule and reducing activity in the bedroom that isn’t sleep related can all help.

Additional treatment might be needed, such as checking for sleep apnea, setting a melatonin regimen and medication if the problem persists. Anderson said discussing symptoms of a possible sleep disorder with a doctor should not be delayed.

Anderson’s lecture was part of the College’s Mini Medical School program, a collaboration of OLLI and CCHS. Mini Medical School provides an opportunity for adults and community learners to explore trends in medicine and health, and the lectures offer important information about issues and advances in medicine and research.