“You are Getting Sleepier…”

— Oh for a patch of sunshine and an afternoon nap…

“You are getting sleepier…”

I could have handled a little hypnotic suggestion this past Friday. Thursday morning before going to work, my hearing assistance dog did just what she was suppose to do – sort of. I had just placed my breakfast of bacon and eggs on the table when Chloe alerted me to the front door. I went to see who was there to find the UPS man and a delivery for my husband. I should have been suspicious. Chloe normally wags and flirts with whomever is at the door, but she disappeared while I made small talk with the UPS guy.

Meandering back into the kitchen I noticed all three dogs sitting in a row, Chloe closest to the table of course. My plate was empty. As a matter of fact, it had been licked so clean it appeared to have come straight from the dishwasher. I fussed, even though I knew it was my own fault. Well-trained assistance dog – yes. Still a dog? YES.

I could have predicted the outcome, but was sort of hoping if I kept my hypothesis to myself it may not prove to be true. But my sensitive-tummy service dog was sick as a – ERMDOG, by Thursday evening. As a matter of fact she was sick all night long. I was up every 90 minutes to 2 hours with her – for up to 30 minutes at a time. At 3:30 in the morning, I sent out an email to all my students cancelling classes. I was so tired I was hallucinating. Seriously. After taking Chloe out around 3:00 AM I was freaked out by the hundreds of mice running all over the yard – or so I thought since I was seeing things that weren’t there.

Being a person with disability, I require more sleep than an average adult anyway. It wasn’t until hound dog was feeling better Friday night that I finally got a solid nine hours of much needed sleep.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, average, healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night (National Sleep Foundation, 2011). While most of us very likely receive far less than that, the experts agree that this is the amount we should strive for every night. However, people who live with disability or invisible illness may actually require more. At the very least, these folks should make the 7-9 suggested hours a priority.

People with arthritis may need more sleep (Eustice, 2012), as do people with epilepsy (NYU Langone Medical Center, 2012). What can be frustrating, however, that for many living with invisible illness or disability, sleep disorders are often a co-morbid diagnosis. I know people with fibromyalgia, Lymes disease, and other chronic pain conditions that explain sleep is difficult to obtain. Your body may need extra sleep; however, because of the illness itself the person may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Training along side of fellow clients at Fidos For Freedom, Inc., I have a new “family” of folks who have various disabilities and illnesses. Some have chronic pain conditions, some have MS, mobility issues, Parkinson’s, and hearing loss. Since getting to know them over the years, I have heard ALL of them explain they simply do not get enough sleep, or have trouble getting a full sleep cycle in each night. As a result, each have stories to tell of “things getting worse” and symptoms causing near accidents or actual falls, bumps, bruises, etc. I recall overhearing a conversation of one of the trainers talking to a newly matched client. They were falling more and having trouble with even cognitive functioning. The (wise) trainer asked them, “How much sleep are you getting?” The client explained that they were so excited about this new chapter in their life that they had trouble sleeping – night after night. They quickly surmised this may be increasing the severity of some of their disease’s symptoms. Sleep matters!

People with hearing loss may actually require more than the average 7-9 hours necessary for most adults. According to Healthy Hearing (2008), because our brain is actually more involved than our ears in communication, a tired brain can impair how well we hear. Even if we are “hearing again” with cochlear implant, BAHA, or hearing aids, sleep deprivation may impair our ability to communicate well and to maximize what we are able to hear.

People with hearing loss often forget how much harder they have to work to communicate effectively. As a result we actually tire out much faster than our normal hearing peers. If you must pay attention and concentrate wholly on a conversation to adequately understand and respond, your brain actually TIRES.

I also have Meniere’s disease, a vestibular and balance disorder. Because I have to pay attention to stepping up, stepping down, avoiding visual vertigo triggers such as ceiling fans, paying attention to my surroundings to avoid snags in carpet, etc., I actually “think my way safely” throughout each and every day. It can take a lot out of me to constantly remain on “high alert” to possible problems to avoid falls.

So Exactly How Do I get More Sleep?

There are NUMEROUS places online from which you can find information about how to get a better night’s rest. Some of these “tips” include:

1. Avoid caffeine 5-6 hours prior to when you plan to go to sleep.

2. Avoid complex carbohydrates such as breads, pasta, and sweets several hours before bed. Some experts suggest avoiding eating ANY large quantity of food before bed.

3. Avoid exercising within several hours of when you plan to go to bed.

4. Limit “light” – especially those created by many types of technology and electronics. Computers, iPads, televisions, etc., all may stimulate your brain activity and make it more difficult for you to sleep.

5. Worried? It can keep you awake. Try writing down things you need to get done the next day so you do not lay in bed worrying about remembering to do them. If you are worried about things you cannot control, try talking to someone. It doesn’t have to be a counselor – even a close friend or family member may work.

6. Try going to bed at the same time every night. Many stay up later on Friday or Saturday nights. This can actually disrupt our sleep schedule. Our bodies like routine – especially when it comes to sleep. Or, you may love sleeping in on Saturday morning. This too, can disrupt our sleep schedule. Try waking up and going to bed at the same time – no matter what day it is.

7. Many people sleep better in a dark, cool room. Do you need to purchase room darkening blinds? Maybe purchase a fan for just the bedroom?

8. Depending on who you read, opinions vary about whether or not taking an over the counter sleep aid like Tylenol PM or even Benedryl can be helpful. There are also medications specifically FOR sleep, though most warn they are not to be taken long-term. There is a new drug to hit the “over the counter” scene called “ZzzzQuil” believe it or not – made by NyQuil. It has been getting fairly positive reviews. Some may find they need a prescription sleep medication. Discuss with your doctors any risks associated with the prescription.

Do you think you are “getting by” on what sleep you are able to get? There are too many articles (written by medical experts) that show links to very serious, even life-threatening health problems for those who are chronically sleep deprived. Check out this great article by Dr. Stephanie Schupska at WebMD: Click here. “Not Enough Sleep: 7 Serious Health Risks”

Please feel free to comment and share how sleep deprivation has posed problems for you; or, ideas about how to get a better night’s rest!

Denise Portis

©2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

About.com Arthritis and Joint Conditions (2012). Arthritis patients need more Zzzzzz’s. Retrieved October 22, 2012 from http://arthritis.about.com/cs/betterliving/a/needmorezzzzzs.htm

Healthy Hearing (2008). Sleep your way to better hearing. Retrieved October 22, 2012 from http://www.healthyhearing.com/content/articles/Hearing-loss/Treatments/24201-Sleep-your-way-to

National Sleep Foundation. (2011). How much sleep do we really need? Retrieved October 22, 2012 from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need

NYU Langone Medical Center. (2012). Sleep and Epilepsy. Retrieved October 22, 2012 from http://epilepsy.med.nyu.edu/living-with-epilepsy/epilepsy-and-lifestyle/sleep-and-epilepsy

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