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Sleep Disorders during Uncertain Times

A. “Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, / The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath, /.Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, / Chief nourisher in life's feast.”
Sleep is arguably the most important aspect of our lives, alongside eating and breathing. Being denied a full and satisfying night’s sleep can cause myriad problems in our lives. Here are ten problems caused by lack of sleep: 
1. Sleepiness Causes Accidents
2. Sleep Loss Dumbs You Down
3. Sleep Deprivation Can Lead to Serious Health Problems
• Heart disease
• Heart attack
• Heart failure
• Irregular heartbeat
• High blood pressure
• Stroke
• Diabetes
4. Lack of Sleep Kills Sex Drive
5. Sleepiness Is Depressing
6. Lack of Sleep Ages Your Skin
7. Sleepiness Makes You Forgetful
8. Losing Sleep Can Make You Gain Weight
9. Lack of Sleep May Increase Risk of Death
10. Sleep Loss Impairs Judgment, Especially About Sleep
With all of these possible effects, why would anyone want to mess with sleep? Of course, few do intentionally upset their sleep cycles. Most often it is outside influences that cause sleep cycles to get off kilter. The stresses put upon us by Covid-19; financial worries, health concerns, lack of structure in our daily lives, unhealthy eating/drinking as a way of coping, lack of physical stimulation, among others, are causing the natural cycles of sleep/wakefulness patterns to go off the rails.
Different personality types respond to stimuli in different ways and at different speeds. To say that everyone should have enough time and experience under their belts at this point in the pandemic is to try to make life One Size Fits All. And we know that is never the case. Those who crumbled within the first few weeks may be successfully coping at this point. Those who remained strong throughout the early part may now be losing steam and finding themselves in the same boat as their friends were in months ago. No matter what part of the ebb and flow of the response to unnatural conditions you may find yourself in, you can always carve out a corner of your daily response to events to focus on one aspect of your life that needs attention. Why not your sleep cycles?
If you find yourself out of sync with your regular sleeping patterns, step back from yourself and take a hard and relentless look at where you are and what you are doing. Are you staying up later than usual to watch late-night television? Are you sleeping in on a daily basis? Are you “eating your feelings”? Are you using alcohol or drugs to force yourself to sleep? Are you getting sufficient exercise? Are you reaching out to friends and family to check up on them or just to stay in touch? Are you still making plans? All of these activities, some regular and normal, some as an escape from the lack of normalcy surrounding us, need to be addressed. If you find that you are out of sync in several of these categories, don’t feel the need to address them all at once. They all crept up on you at their own paces and didn’t all arrive at your doorstep the same day. 
When you determine what has gotten out of balance in your life, make a plan to address them, one by one. On Monday you can make a new exercise regimen. Begin to implement it slowly at first so that you don’t quickly burn out for not being able to maintain an impossible level from the get-go. On Tuesday look at your diet. How much junk are you taking in? Are you eating at regularly scheduled intervals or grazing throughout the day? Make a nutrition plan and start to implement it gradually. Wednesday look at reaching out to others. Make a few “dates” for the next week. And so on. You get the idea. Your bad habits crept up on you gradually. Push them back gradually to keep from giving yourself emotional whiplash.
And if you still find it all too overwhelming, reach out for professional help. We can’t always do it alone. Help is there if you ask for it.
Be well.
David Salvage, MD, FAPM

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