During the day, our bodies take all kinds of abuse from our daily lives that we don’t even notice. From the spine-jarring action of walking on the sidewalk to expending large amounts of energy running for the bus stop, our bodies are worn out by the day’s end. Our sympathetic nervous system, which is active in the daytime and serves the great purpose of self-preservation, requires a large amount of energy to run as well. A good night’s sleep gives our bodies the chance to heal and replenish energy to keep us on our toes the following day. Unfortunately for people suffering from sleep apnea, disruptions in our sleep cycle may be more damaging than they seem.
Our bodies need to be able to enter REM sleep, which stands for rapid eye movement, for long periods in the night in order to heal. Deep sleep is called REM sleep because our eyes move rapidly due to a large amount of brain activity. REM sleep activates the parasympathetic nervous system and allows it to work its healing magic. Sleep requirements change with age, but adults usually need between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Sleeping Resets Your Body
When we sleep, the sympathetic nervous system switches off and the parasympathetic system takes over to restore our bodies. Our mind and body move through several sleep stages as the body slows down and the mind rolls over into sleep mode. Each of the first three stages can last five to fifteen minutes. In stage one, your eyes are closed but you are still partly awake. As you drift into a light sleep, you enter stage two where your heart rate slows and your temperature drops, preparing for deep sleep.
About ninety minutes after falling asleep we enter stage four: REM sleep, our deepest level of sleep. During REM, our body takes the time to repair tissue damaged from the day, replenish energy stores used by the sympathetic nervous system, replace bone marrow, strengthen bones, and produce cells vital to the immune system such as white blood cells.
Even when it doesn’t wake you up completely, sleep apnea pulls you out of REM sleep throughout the night. Every time your breathing stops, the sympathetic nervous system boots back up and takes over to do what it does best: keep you alive. These disruptions can occur multiple times per night, and each time, the body takes sixty to ninety minutes to get back into REM mode. As few as three sleep disruptions in a night means three hours of lost REM sleep.
Overrunning Your Sympathetic Nervous System
If you suffer from sleep apnea, you know that disruptions in your sleep leave you feeling tired, but these interruptions may have negative effects on your overall physical health as well. Having your sympathetic nervous system active throughout the night impacts your health in more ways than just preventing your body from healing. Overrunning the sympathetic nervous system causes the release of greater amounts of the hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline signals the body to prepare to take action and makes the heart work harder, which can lead to or exacerbate heart problems.
Lost sleep may also lead to weight gain because the body craves stimulants like caffeine and sugar to make up for the energy stores ordinarily replenished in REM sleep. Just like the body, the brain needs large amounts of energy to function properly. People with sleep deprivation will experience difficulty when problem-solving and will have more trouble concentrating. Functioning with sleep deprivation can even be dangerous when it comes to activities like driving. Additionally, they may have some problems with memory, as REM sleep is also the time when memories are processed. Lack of sleep has also been found to be a contributing factor of depression and diabetes.
Don’t let sleep apnea endanger your physical and mental health. To discuss management options to help you reclaim the night from sleep apnea, please call (303) 691-0267 for an appointment with a Denver sleep dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.