Sleep Deprivation Kills

by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen

Sleep Deprivation Kills

I read the health history forms of new patients each day. Besides learning about the typical back and neck problems, what strikes me with alarming curiosity is how many people list insomnia as a major health issue. Over the past six weeks, we have performed dozens and dozens of EEGs. Upon examining the numerical values of the report, I can see plain as day who is not sleeping properly simply based on their brainwave patterns.

Those who are not sleeping well often rely on Ambien, Benadryl, NyQuil, or Lunesta for sleep despite their dangerous side effects and potential for addiction. The pills might knock them out for the night, but upon waking up, they do not feel rested. It’s as if at night they were running on the same treadmill they were on the day before.

Patients relate to several sleep situations: Falling asleep is easy, but staying asleep is difficult. Around three or four in the morning they’re up and their mind is racing. They may fall asleep again for a few hours, but the quality of sleep is lousy. Or, they cannot fall asleep at all and they spend hours stressing about it. And lastly, the night is spent cycling through short periods of restless sleep and longer periods of insomnia.

I can always tell when patients have not slept well by that tell-tale hollow look in their eyes or by the fact that it is almost impossible to adjust them. The amount of tension in their nerve system caused by a lack of sleep is absolutely palpable. If truth be told, my own personal health complaint is not getting good quality sleep on a consistent basis, no matter how early I go to bed, how much exercise I get, or how well I eat. Because of my first-hand struggle with sleep and how often the devastating effects of insomnia comes up in conversation at Balance Atlanta, one of the motivating factors for investing in BrainCore technology was to see how neurofeedback can help patients sleep better without the use of drugs.

Obviously drinking gallons of coffee, eating junk, not exercising, sitting all day, obsessing about issues, watching TV before bed, popping pills, lying in a cluttered bedroom, and who knows what else will not facilitate sweet dreams. However, without getting too technical, the chief culprit causing insomnia is what is called “neurological dysregulation” which basically means your brain’s electrical system is out of balance.

At every second, the brain emits certain brainwaves appropriate for the task at hand. For instance, beta waves are dominant when someone is in a state of high concentration such as performing at a gymnastics meet. When too many beta waves are being produced, a person is anxious, impulsive and unable to focus. Alpha waves occur when the body is relaxed and the mind is alert, but you’re almost in a state of quiet meditation. Examples include listening to calming music or being in the “zone” jogging. Delta waves fire when a person is in the deepest level of sleep. Upon waking, one feels energized, balanced, and alert – you’re ready to take on the world at full speed, no questions asked.

Delta waves are the most elusive for people with insomnia. In this deep sleep state, human growth hormone is produced which is one of the key players in recalibrating your body after a day full of damage or stress. A race car going at 150 mph needs to pull into the pit for maintenance work or else it will break down. Likewise, the body needs time to repair or it too will break down. It does not surprise me that people who do not reach a deep level of sleep experience other health issues such as chronic colds, pain sensitivity, longer recovery time after working out, gastrointestinal problems, mood swings, a loss or increase in appetite, hormonal imbalances and more. Basically, the body never had a chance to rebuild and recover – it is working at a deficit while you are attempting to go full speed ahead in life.  Charging a cell phone for five minutes and expecting to have enough juice stored to make a 40-minute phone call doesn’t work either, right?

The reason why babies, children and teens sleep so much is that their bodies are going through intense periods of growth where new cells and tissues, including neurons and nerve pathways, are being formed by the minute. Human growth hormone produced only during delta sleep is essential for proper physical and cognitive development. Insomnia is a common complaint among seniors. Unfortunately, as we age, the body is breaking down (catabolism) faster than it is building up (anabolism). Perhaps our innate intelligence figures that sleep (and producing human growth hormone) is not as important because laying down new neurological tracts is less essential during the golden years.

Depending on the condition, there are about 90 different BrainCore protocols – almost like a recipe book outlining what to do for each treatment session. Determining which guideline to use is a form of art that combines scientific knowledge, clinical experience and patient feedback. The protocol varies from condition to condition, whether the patient is dealing with ADD/ADHD, autism, memory loss, anxiety, depression, chronic pain or fibromyalgia. However, as my teacher states, “Insomnia trumps all.”  This means; when in doubt (or when there are multiple conditions present), start off with the insomnia protocol. Why? Because if your brain learns how to fire correctly at the appropriate time and you get into the delta state of sleep, many of the other health issues previously listed will subside. As I said, if you are able to produce human growth hormone, then your body will repair tissues, cells and organs as well as lay down new nerve pathways. Get the body in a state where it can heal, then the mind and body will work well. Remain in a state of sleep deprivation, then the mind and body will break down. It’s pretty simple.

Between five years of grad school and 14 years of practicing as a doctor of chiropractic, I look beyond trying to “put bones back in place” towards understanding how to take a person who is in a state of inflammation, anxiety, insomnia and pain to a state of balance, high productivity, and optimal mental/physical performance. As a child, I used to make my mom nuts by always asking “why, why, why”. I wanted to understand. My quest has not subsided as an adult. The more I know, the more I question, and the more curious I am.

It’s really not OK with me when I see people of all ages struggling with school, relationships, job satisfaction, chronic health issues and self-esteem, to name just a few common situations. Personally, I know I feel better when I am rested. The jet fuel tank is full. My mind is sharp. My body is relaxed yet charged ready for action.  For this reason, I am putting attention on insomnia, a condition that is so prevalent that it is almost considered to be “normal.” Not sleeping is not normal. The consequences of insomnia are dangerous at any age impacting both personal and professional success.

I would encourage anyone with insomnia to schedule a BrainCore evaluation to see if neurofeedback – the technique designed to remove neurological dysregulation and to retrain the brain to fire appropriately – is right for you.