Given all the threats to survival in the Stone Age, it’s surprising that our ancestors ever got any sleep at all.
Imagine trying to get a good night’s rest while worried about ending up as a midnight snack for a passing sabre tooth cat. Even with look-outs posted throughout the night, in Paleolithic times sound slumber must have been something of a luxury, enjoyed in small doses.
So how come today—when we’re all happily tucked up in our locked fortresses, the dangerous animals are all in cages and most of us have lovely warm soft beds to drift off in—the population of persons diagnosed with sleeping disorders such as the following just seems to be growing?
Sleep Apnea – The increasing number of cases of sleep apnea being identified appears to be due in part to much more information and research on the subject having been published in recent years. In this condition, the sleeper wakes up suddenly when airways become blocked, thus interrupting the natural breathing rhythm. Overweight individuals are more likely (although not exclusively) to be prone to this condition, which can result in a stroke if left untreated.
Insomnia – One of the most common markers for depression is insomnia or a change in the individual’s normal sleeping pattern. This includes not only restlessness in getting to sleep but also waking during the night and being unable to get back to sleep as well as early morning wakening, resulting in sleep deprivation and fatigue throughout the day. Insomnia is often tied to high levels of stress, but there can be dietary issues at work, too.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders – Shift workers (such as policemen, hospital staff, call center operatives, etc.) tend to suffer from this type of disorder. It’s when the normal sleeping/waking pattern is disrupted and the body needs to “reset” itself. Jet lag also comes under this category, particularly following long-haul flights.
Narcolepsy – This involves the sufferer falling heavily asleep—regularly throughout the day in severe cases. This serious condition can strike without warning, although it often becomes possible after the fact to identify triggers such as stress or even laughter.
Sleep Walking – This is when an individual (more often than not a child) acts in a conscious manner yet is still in a sleeping state and only semi-conscious. The sleep walker may sit up in bed, walk around the house or even venture outdoors. In extreme cases he or she may carry out complex tasks such as driving. The condition can last from seconds up to half an hour.
Stress and tension are certainly recurring themes among sleep disorders. Others blame the problem of poor sleep on the alarm clock—we go to bed when we want to and get up when we have to, a sure formula for lack of sleep.
Of course, there are other factors that can lead to troubled sleep, too, from the aches and pains of old age or the side effects of alcohol, drug or caffeine abuse to crying infants, noisy neighbors and sirens in the night—the sabre tooth cats of a modern age.
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