I love to sleep. There is nothing better than a good night’s sleep or a refreshing afternoon nap. And the absence of sleep makes me miserable.
Insufficient sleep can cause mental and medical distress, and mental health problems can cause sleep disorders. The relationship between sleep and mental health is not completely understood, but studies suggest that sleep problems may contribute to the development of some psychiatric disorders. A good night’s sleep helps mental and emotional resilience, and chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability. Sleep problems are common in people with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD.
Adults need 7 or more hours of sleep per night for the best health and wellbeing. This is true for most of us, but there are exceptions.
Thai Ngoc is a Vietnamese man who is best known for his claim of being awake for 46 years. It is hypothesized that this occurred after a bout of fever in 1973, but others believe there was no apparent cause. It is said that Ngoc suffered from no apparent ill effect other than being unable to sleep. He was mentally sound and physically strong. He made a statement in 2006 that he was beginning to feel like a plant without water due to the lack of sleep.
Al Herpin was an American known as the “Man Who Never Slept”. There is agreement among medical professionals that all humans require sleep, and that they do so even if they are not aware of it. Al Herpin was not aware of it and claimed to have never slept. He was said to have been in perfect health and does not seem to suffer any discomfort from his condition. He died at the age of 94. No other person with total insomnia has lived for such a long period. He likely died of other causes, not sleep deprivation.
Severe sleep problems are not to be taken lightly. Fatal insomnia is an extremely rare sleep disorder that is typically inherited. It results in death within a few months to a few years after onset. It has no cure and involves worsening insomnia, which leads to hallucinations, delirium, dementia, and death. It has been found in just 40 families worldwide, affecting 100 people.
More than 70 types of sleep disorders exist. Sleep studies are performed by professionals to assess sleep disorders. These can rule out sleep-related problems such as sleep apnea, seizure disorders, movement disorders, narcolepsy, teeth grinding, and stages of sleep problems.
You can track your sleep without doing a full sleep study. There are devices you connect to your wrist or finger while sleeping. There are devices you place next to your bed, or others that you place under your sheets or mattress. They are designed to collect data about your movement and heart rate or breathing patterns. They may report total sleep time, how often you wake and what times you woke up. Some will track your sleep stages, light sleep versus deep sleep. Personally, I use my FitBit to track sleep. It also provides education on ideal stages of sleep.
Treatment for common insomnia is a combination of lifestyle changes, physical activity, good sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques, and cognitive behavioral therapy. If these interventions are not sufficient, medication may help.