Why Sleep is Essential for Chronic Disease Management

Sleep plays a critical role in chronic disease management. During sleep, the body repairs damaged cells and provides the energy needed to carry out daily activities.

However, studies have shown that some 70 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic sleep disorder. These findings lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to label the situation as a public health problem.

Sleep disorders are a primary concern for chronic disease patients and their treating physicians, as lack of sleep can exacerbate disease symptoms and lead to an increased risk of poor mental health.

Understanding Healthy Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get at least 7 hours of sleep per night to maintain physical and mental health.

However, not all sleep is healthy sleep. Sleep disturbance is common. Things like snoring, noise, lighting, the use of electronics before bed, poorly planned routines, stress, pain, and a bad diet can all influence sleep quality.

Sleep is a complex process that involves the entire body. During sleep, the body transitions between different cycles or sleep stages. Light sleep is also known as stage one and two, deep sleep or stage three, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

These cycles repeat multiple times throughout the night and are necessary to allow sleep to perform its vital function of repairing the body and mind.

Healthy sleep, therefore, requires minimal sleep interruptions, a consistent sleep schedule, and a well-planned bedtime routine.

Sleep and Mental Health

Chronic disease patients have a higher risk of developing severe mental health problems. The stress associated with coping with a disease diagnosis, symptom flareups, and social stigma can lead to a higher risk of depression in chronic disease patients.

Research shows there is a strong bilateral relationship between sleep and mental health disorders.

The different stages of sleep allow brain activity to fluctuate. During non-rapid eye movement cycles, brain activity slows, with sporadic quick bursts of energy. On the other hand, REM sleep is characterized by increased brain activity.

Each sleep cycle stimulates different parts of the brain and improves thinking, learning, and memory. The fluctuations in brain activity during sleep also profoundly affect a person’s mental and emotional health.

REM sleep especially facilitates the brain’s ability to process emotional information. During this stage, the brain works to assess and remember thoughts and memories. Researchers uncovered that a lack of healthy sleep hampered the consolidation of positive emotional content, negatively influencing a patient’s mood and emotional reactivity.

Tips For Healthier Sleep

The first step to improving the quality of sleep is to make sleep a priority. Additionally, some sleep hygiene tips will serve to improve patients’ quality of sleep.

  • Creating and adhering to a sleep schedule
  • Design a relaxing pre-bed routine
  • Avoid the use of electronics at least a half-hour before bed
  • Minimize all potential disruptions from light and sound pollution
  • Optimize the bedroom temperature
  • Carefully monitor the intake of caffeine and alcohol, and avoid their consumptions in the hours before bed

Chronic disease patients experiencing some form of sleep disorder should speak to their treating physicians to evaluate possible solutions.

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