What Your Sleeping Style Says About You (cont.)

Poor Sleep Also Problematic

This can occur if they are not getting enough sleep or if they are getting poor-quality sleep, she says.

According to Krieger, "When people say 'I probably do sleep, but I don't feel rested and I worry at night and have a lot of stress,' this may suggest alpha [sleep wave] intrusion, which causes nonrestorative sleep disorder. With this condition deep sleep is interrupted by bouts of waking-type brain activity. In particular, people with the chronic pain disorder fibromyalgia tend to have a lot of alpha intrusion during the night.

"But medications that treat alpha intrusion, such as the anticonvulsant gabapentin, may make people sleep better," she says.

What about too much sleep? "Most likely there is no such thing as too much sleep," she tells WebMD. "Patients that are depressed tend to sleep more, but we don't know what comes first. We are supposed to have more rapid eye movement (REM) sleep later in the night, but patients who are depressed have it earlier and for longer periods of time."

REM is the deepest stage of sleep; it is when intense dreaming occurs during sleep. During REM there is an increase in brain activity and many body-function changes occur, including an increase in breathing and heart rates.

"We don't know if the changes in REM are causing depression or if depression is causing the changes in REM," she says.

However, certain antidepressants can suppress REM sleep and help alleviate both the depression and the sleeping abnormalities.

What Time Is Your Internal Alarm Clock Set For?

Whether a person is up all night watching reruns of bad sitcoms and scary movies or sound asleep by 9 p.m. is based, in part, on his own internal alarm clock. And such clockwork may play a role in workplace success.

"A clock mechanism makes us sleepier at certain times and more alert at others, and it can make you want to stay up all night or go to bed quite early," Ballard says.

This can be a problem at times. "For instance, teenage boys who don't go to sleep until 3 or 4 a.m. may sleep through their classes, and if this persists into adulthood, they may have difficulty functioning in an early morning job," he says.

A study of middle school students showed that teens may also suffer from lower self-esteem and more depression when they don't get enough sleep.

Sleeping Style Affects Physical Health

How you sleep also affects your physical health. For example, the freefall position (lying on your front with your hands around the pillow and your head turned to one side) is good for digestion. But the "soldier" (lying on your back with both arms pinned to your sides) and the "starfish" may lead to snoring and a bad night's sleep.

"Some sleep positions are bad for health," Idzikowski tells WebMD.

Other research has shown that the breathing pauses of sleep apnea occur when a person sleeps on their back.

"If you have an underlying sleep disorder, body position may be significant," says Krieger. "Sleep apnea is worse when you sleep on your back, and other patients with leg cramps and restless legs syndrome have leg discomfort, so they tend to sleep in the fetal position and hold their legs."

Sleep apnea is marked by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep, while restless legs syndrome is characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs, usually due to uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations.

There are simple tips for improving sleep quality. However, talking with your doctor and letting him know what is going on may help. There may be an underlying medical problem causing these sleep-related problems.

Published June 29, 2005.


SOURCES: Mark W. Mahowald, MD, director, Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, Hennepin County Medical Center; professor of neurology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Chris Idzikowski, PhD, director, Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service, London; author, Learn to Sleep Well. Ana Krieger, MD, director, New York University Sleep Disorders Center, New York. Robert Ballard, MD, medical director, sleep disorders program, National Jewish Hospital Medical Research Center, Denver.

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Last Editorial Review: 6/30/2005 3:17:13 PM