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Sleep Disorders

Confused Physical Feeling -- Sleep related?

12/19/2007

Question:

Hello,

I have been experiencing weird onsets in my body. I have to admit, that I do not have get enough sleep. I work the night shift at random times, and usually get about 6 hours of sleep. I am 21 years old.

My symptoms:

At random times during the day if I did not get enough sleep, and if I am tired, I will get these adrenalin rushes through my body. It`s like my body tingles within - throughout. It`s almost like little bursts of energy. I also feel nauseated and when I get these bursts, it really scares me which probably enhances this adrenalin effect even more. The worst part is when I am driving and I start feeling this, I get afraid that I might faint due to the nausea feeling. My thinking is that I need to start sleeping more, and I will act upon this. Currently, I am not sick (from what I can tell), and do not have any other major medical complications such as diabetes, hypertension, etc. Could these symptoms mainly be due to my lack of sleep and how should I go about correcting this? Should I start sleeping 8-9 hours a night/day or should I try to sleep even more then that ( a more aggressive approach). Please advise.

Thank you.

Answer:

It’s difficult to say if your symptoms are clearly related to your lack of adequate sleep. There are many consequences to chronically partially sleep depriving yourself (discussed below), though I am not aware of it causing the specific symptoms you mention. However, as you do occasionally work night shifts, it possible that you could have created some underlying problems with your internal clock (circadian rhythm) and that this disruption could cause symptoms like you mention. This might be similar to those who experience Jet Lag (disconnect between the external environment and the bodies internal clock), where gastrointestinal symptoms can be quite prominent.

It’s also possible that your symptoms are not related to your sleep at all. While we don't completely understand the reasons we sleep and what the function of sleep is, growing research suggests that adequate sleep is important for the processes of functioning and health. Studies have found that individuals that are sleep deprived tend to perform poorly in test situations, have reduced concentration and tend to be more irritable and anxious. Chronic partial sleep deprivation can also affect our ability to learn and thus can have a significant impact on school and job performance. Believe it or not, but we actually “learn” (take daytime experiences or what we have studied during the day and store them into long-term memory) better with sleep than if we’re to stay awake all night.

We are really just now beginning to understand the wide ranging impact that lack of adequate sleep can have on our health and well-being. Recent research has shown, in pretty convincing fashion, that insufficient (lack of enough) sleep can contribute to significant weight gain. This appears to be due to changes in hormones that control appetite and cravings for certain foods. Weight gain, in turn, can lead to other medical problems, such as diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, etc. While not as clear, chronic lack of sleep by itself may contribute directly to the development of hypertension.

As mentioned above, another area of concern is the impact that insufficient sleep has on vigilance, ability to concentrate and daytime sleepiness. These all can be impaired by insufficient sleep and, as a result, can have wide ranging consequences, including increased rates of car accidents and work-related accidents. Some of the largest man made disasters in modern times were attributed, in part, to sleep deprived individuals making poor decisions (Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez, etc.).

As you can see, lack of adequate sleep can have serious consequences, affecting your learning, health and social function. The fact that you occasionally work night shifts and thus likely disrupt your circadian rhythm could further compound the lack of adequate sleep and lead to more frequent and worse symptoms.

I recommend you strongly consider getting “enough” sleep on a regular scheduled basis. Just what “enough” sleep is for a given individual may be quite variable (though most people need 7-8 hours per night to feel rested). One way to determine how much sleep you need is to think about when you last were able to sleep as much as you needed to feel rested (i.e. how much did you sleep when on vacation after the first few days of vacation?). Generally, most people can determine how must sleep they require to feel refreshed and rested. Sleeping beyond your typical sleep needs on a chronic basis is usually not helpful.

If you find you can change your lifestyle to get enough sleep but still are having problems, you should probably visit a primary care physician. Specific factors in your history or examination could indicate other problems (not related to sleep) that need to be evaluated.

If you have other specific questions about sleep, lack of sleep, or other sleep disorders, please visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. In addition to information, the website contains a list of Sleep Centers and Sleep Specialists across the country so that you may locate one near you. The website Sleep Education.com also contains plenty of consumer friendly information about sleep and sleep apnea. Good luck and here's to better sleep!

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Response by:

Dennis   Auckley, MD Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University