Thursday, March 5, 2009

Losing Sleep Causes Premature Aging

Losing sleep has grown to epidemic proportions in today's society with our economic woes combined with fear of losing our jobs, retirement finances cut by more than half for many, and of course the housing crisis. This is not to exclude those that lost their entire net worth to Ponzi Schemes. Madoff being the most notorious. Hope and optimism for many has been replaced by depression, sleeplessness and anxiety.

Some of us function in a zombie like state doing repetitive tasks we can't even remember doing just a few minutes or hours earlier. A lot of double checking throughout our day becomes the norm. So not only is sleep essential to our health, but to brain function and retaining our short term memory.

In my first paragraph I wanted to utilize similar descriptions as we are seeing in the media on a constant basis. It is getting so every time you turn on the TV, we are constantly bombarded with doom and gloom. It's enough to make anyone think our future is bleak. I admit I have also fallen victim to this media blitz using words like crisis, collapse, catastrophe, freefall, meltdown and deep recession. I do all I can to avoid watching the news anymore since it is literally unhealthy and raises my blood pressure.

More than 25% of Americans are losing sleep on a regular basis. More Americans than ever before are visiting their physicians for some help to alleviate what they are experiencing in their lives right now. Just to get through the daily grind of their job can be brutal.

One thing we sometimes don't realize is fear perpetuates fear and anxiety feeds on itself. And the media descriptions including those used by our government leaders is not helping the psyche of the American people. Our minds can work overtime clouding the issues and not really taking a hard look at the actualities we are currently dealing with. Perception is reality! Anxiety and depression are similar in that we allow ourselves to interpret what we see and hear as complete fact.

Clearly everyone in America is going to be effected in some way or another and as Americans we are strong and our dreams can still be realized. Optimism and prosperity is not dead and things will recover as they have done throughout history. This I believe and I hold on to the ideal that which does not kill us, will only make us stronger.

What we need to do is take the focus off of our surroundings and work toward keeping ourselves healthy throughout this time in our lives. Sleep deprivation is a leading cause of anxiety and depression. When we feel stressed out you would think we would collapse from the sheer exhaustion of everything that causes our stress levels to rise. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. We also allow ourselves to be so consumed with worry we then begin to lash out at one another and the attacks are usually fear driven.

I had a discussion with my doctor about this very thing since I also am not immune to what is occurring around me. I worry about my children, my spouse and our future, as I feel many of us are doing. We can't seem to help ourselves from foreboding thoughts consuming us.

As she explained it to me, it is the "flight or fight" syndrome. When we are placed under stress, we pump adrenalin into our bodies similar to what happens when we are in an accident or under an attack. It is this adrenalin that helps us to react and remain cognizant of our surroundings so we can either fight or run and it gives us a burst of strength and speed. Unfortunately, our bodies can't determine the difference between stress and an actual assault. When our bodies stay in the constant state of preparedness, we never allow our heart or brain to take a break which in turn effects our sleep patterns and actually long term, will weaken us, leaving us exhausted. Yet we try to sleep but can't because the adrenalin continues to flow, leaving us keyed up and edgy.

I personally want to know where the "OFF" button is.

For some of us, me included some days, we literally "FREEZE" and don't function when we feel the pangs of anxiety or fear. It is getting through those moments that is crucial. Sometimes it may be a factor of simply trudging through when you want to quit and climb into bed with covers pulled up close. You know...go into cocoon mode...insulate yourself from all the bad stuff. But don't quit...never, never quit! The simple act of moving forward can show a rainbow on your cloudy day when you least expect it. Try not to hang in the moment since this is the most crippling. For some it may require some medical support. Your doctor can recommend some techniques to help you through those stressful times. Switching to the "off" button is very important and for some it may require medication prescribed by your doctor to assist with some worse case scenarios.

I do want to point out that there are some great things that do work and keep us grounded in sanity and reality. However, I wasn't convinced until I actually tried some. Keeping busy will take the focus off what is happening in our world but this will not relieve stress since in business we are meeting goals and expectations of ourselves and others.

An example for me, my husband took me up north for a 2 hour drive for him to check on a job. We meandered through winding roads, along a beautiful river and snow and rain was falling. Literally the further away from town we got, the more my body began to relax. I could feel my jaw unclench and I actually started to get sleepy. The ride was soothing and helped me focus on the beauty we were surrounded with. I went into quiet mode and it felt wonderful. Ahhh....I found the "OFF" button at last! Getting away from the office for a few hours removed me from phones, emails, and the TV. What should be noted though, as we returned into town, my body began to tense again, only proving to me the drive helped, but once I was brought back to the environment that surrounds me with pressure, the repair is brief. This is why people go on vacation to decompress! Needless to say other techniques need to be employed.

Small trips into downtown Boise for coffee and friends gives my body a break and frees me from the adrenalin cycle within my body. Meditation and Yoga are also coping mechanisms for stress related anxiety. Taking a walk in the fresh air will also do wonders. The "off" button can be found, and it is important we find it everyday, even for a brief period.

The results of never having down time from our stress factors will be, our health will fall into decline. Your body literally ages when we stay in a state of fear or anxiety. Things that will relate to our health are as follows:

  • Cortisol ~ without sleep builds up in our bodies which in turn causes weight gain. Weight gain in turn can raise our Cholesterol levels to unhealthy levels.

  • Migraines ~ An increase in headaches is caused by tension in our neck and jaw.

  • Short Term Memory Loss ~ cognition becomes a struggle when we don't get enough sleep...combine that with overworked and it becomes a recipe for a frustrating day.

  • Depression ~ Can cause a lack of sleep and in turn lack of sleep can cause depression. Can become a vicious cycle, and medical attention may be required for intervention.

  • Digestive Disorders ~ Ulcers and stomach upset can occur when we are at high levels of stress. Causing eating disorders and the inability to keep food down.

  • Illness ~ Our immune system becomes weakened making us vulnerable to disease and viruses. Sometimes in an otherwise healthy person their illness can be more severe than in the past.

  • Hypertension ~ This should be monitored and will need medical attention.

  • Heart Disease ~ Of course the worse case scenario, but very real. We increase our risk of heart attack when all else is out of whack in our systems.
These are just a few internal effects that can occur to our bodies, and should be noted that it will reflect outwardly in our appearance. Things like breakouts, dark circles and puffy eyes, weight gain, weight loss, hair loss (not genetic loss) and muscle atrophy from lack of activity. These are all aging factors for our bodies yet they can be reversed and improved.
  • Begin with a simple walk around the block or in the park.

  • Go to the zoo and make faces at the monkeys.

  • Read a good book that is motivational and will get your mind working again in a positive way. My favorites are "The Secret" and "You Were Born Rich" by Bob Proctor.

  • Take a walk on a beach and allow the sound of the waves wash over you. Squish your toes in the sand.

  • Visit with friends and stay off subject of the negative aspects of our global other words don't commiserate.

  • Try sitting on the floor and meditate to the sounds of a tropical rain forest.

  • Stay off of caffeine and sugar except in your body scrubs. You don't need anymore adrenalin surges from the rush these two ingredients can cause.

  • Do some gardening as we enter into spring. I love to garden and it removes so much tension for me.

  • Take a drive out of town...get away from the things that remind you of your situation, even briefly.
Although things are not going to get fixed overnight and we are going to continue to feel some emotions as relates to each individual is still imperative that we all find our "OFF" button to keep us healthy, youthful and free us from our daily anxieties.

Just remember, you are not alone and this is not something you caused and we are all in this together. Compassion and understanding are greatly needed now and it is a time for us to come together. Help others when you can since helping others takes the focus off of our own problems. It can be quite uplifting in fact.

Smile at someone standing in line....Hold a door as you enter a store for the person behind you. Strike up a conversation with someone (yes even a complete stranger) out of the blue. Just today I chatted with a gentleman while I pumped my gas. It seemed as though he appreciated the exchange and for that brief moment I was in "off" mode again. Get away from the office and connect face to face. Too much alone time perpetuates the negative thoughts and if we let it, we'll spin out of control until we may reach a full blown panic attack.

Enjoy the Simple things in life! Get to know your neighbors like our mothers and fathers did many moons ago. Interaction will keep us all connected and grounded in what matters.

Be well, keep the faith and my prayers are with all of us!

Have a great weekend....And for those near a beach, wiggle your toes in the sand for me!


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