What Your Sleeping Style Says About You
Experts say how we sleep and how much we sleep affects mood and health.
Even a 'Starfish' Can Snap continued...
"With regard to personality, everybody knows that one of the first
consequences of sleep deprivation is impaired sustained attention and
irritability," says Mark W. Mahowald, MD, director of the Minnesota Regional
Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin County Medical Center and professor of
neurology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "Just about any degree
of sleep deprivation will result in irritability and has far-reaching
ramifications in the workplace, family, classroom, and behind the wheel."
By contrast, delaying start times in schools so students get more sleep
results in better behavior, he points out. "With more sleep, people are less
irritable and less short tempered."
"Most of the studies show that when a person doesn't get enough sleep on a
regular basis, there is a gradual deterioration of function, and the same thing
is true if you disrupt sleep with lights, sounds, and bells," says Robert
Ballard, MD, medical director of the sleep disorders program at National Jewish
Hospital Medical Research Center in Denver.
But with adequate sleep, he says, there may be improvement in learning,
memory, and reasoning. "People are capable of thinking more abstractly, better
capable of problem solving, have improved fine motor coordination and long and
"What we know is that if people don't get as much sleep as they should, they
have changes in their mood and their level of activity," agrees NYU's Krieger.
For example, when kids get hyperactive and cranky, it means they are overtired
and ready for a nap. "Adults just get moody and upset with everybody," she
Poor Sleep Also Problematic
This can occur if they are not getting enough sleep or if they are getting
poor-quality sleep, she says.
According to Krieger, "When people say 'I probably do sleep, but I don't
feel rested and I worry at night and have a lot of stress,' this may suggest
alpha [sleep wave] intrusion, which causes nonrestorative sleep disorder. With
this condition deep sleep is interrupted by bouts of waking-type brain
activity. In particular, people with the chronic pain disorder fibromyalgia tend to have a lot
of alpha intrusion during the night.
"But medications that treat alpha intrusion, such as the
anticonvulsant gabapentin, may make people
sleep better," she says.
What about too much sleep? "Most likely there is no such thing as too much
sleep," she tells WebMD. "Patients that are depressed tend to sleep more, but
we don't know what comes first. We are supposed to have more rapid eye movement
(REM) sleep later in the night, but patients who are depressed have it earlier
and for longer periods of time."
REM is the deepest stage of sleep; it is when intense dreaming occurs during
sleep. During REM there is an increase in brain activity and many body-function
changes occur, including an increase in breathing and heart rates.
"We don't know if the changes in REM are causing depression or if depression
is causing the changes in REM," she says.
However, certain antidepressants can suppress
REM sleep and help alleviate both the depression and the sleeping