Sleeprate Blog

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COVID-19- Why do people suffer from poor sleep? What causes poor sleep, and what does it have to do with our mental health?

When you sleep poorly, your days are miserable – it is hard to concentrate, you are irritable, you have headaches, just want to go back to sleep and wake up refreshed.

The first one most people go to get help from, if poor sleep is persistent, is their doctor. The doctor will immediately focus on finding out if they have a medical problem that causes them to lose sleep. There are many sleep disorders that are related to medical conditions. The most prevalent one is obstructive sleep apnea, where your air passages get blocked when you sleep, and your brain wakes you up with each such episode. If this happens once a night, you will not even notice, but for people with significant sleep apnea, this happens repeatedly, sometimes about 30 times every hour, or even more! It is a severe condition that must be treated but occurs in slightly over 10% of poor sleepers. In fact, medical causes account for only about 15% of all poor sleep! That means that once the doctor rules out medical conditions, 85% of patients are left without a solution.

Other causes of poor sleep are split between two main groups, Environmental factors – where “noises” in the sleep environment disrupt your sleep, and psycho-physiological factors – where the systems controlling sleep in your body are not aligned.

Environmental causes for poor sleep account for another 15% of all causes. These include different kinds of noises – sound, light, and temperature are the main ones. Sound disruptions could be a result of a noisy street in the brink of dawn, a pet making the “rounds” in the house every few minutes, or a snoring bed partner, that could wake you up dozens of times every night. Light disruptions could be a TV left “on” in the bedroom or a skylight that sheds light on you at dawn and disrupts your sleep.

70% of poor sleep is caused by psycho-physiological issues. Most people refer to these issues as “insomnia” though there is a group of sleep disorders that have a similar source of characteristics and manifest themselves in different ways. Psycho-physiological sleep issues are caused by the misalignment of the three main systems that control sleep: sleep drive – or how tired you are when you need to go to sleep; the biological clock that tells us when it is time to be awake and when to be asleep; or the Flight or Fight system that prepares us to deal with danger. When we are in danger, this system will not let us fall asleep. Sometimes, it tells us we are in danger without any real danger is present, especially when our stress level is high.

In some cases, a life stressor (e.g., a stressful job or this ongoing COVID-19 crisis) may cause you to develop insomnia. In many instances, insomnia may persist even after the life-stress has been resolved. Depression can also contribute to the development of insomnia. Insomnia is one of the most common physiological symptoms of depression. People suffering from depression-induced insomnia often wake too early in the morning and are unable to get back to sleep. To make matters worse, those trying to cope with depression often have persistent and negative thoughts during these early morning awakenings.

Other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may cause one to experience insomnia symptoms. Sometimes people who are feeling anxious find that their mind is “wired” just when they want to sleep. They may be thinking and/or worrying about the next day, replaying conversations they had the previous day, thinking about something critical they need to get done, or worrying about their relationship problems.

By using the Sleeprate sleep assessment, we will find out about your sleep environment, your psycho-physiological sleep issues, and if we detect sleep patterns that are associated with a medical condition – though we do not attempt to diagnose them – we simply ask you to go through a medical screening.

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