Sleep Pseudoscience

This is going to be a weird post, I’m just going to start with that. I’ve been doing a lot of ‘google research’ about sleep, sleep cycles, sleep disorders, and all of the related. I’ve done plenty before, not just because I am trying to understand my own sleep issues, but because it’s a genuinely interesting subject.

Sleep is actually relatively mysterious to the scientific community. That sentence alone took me personally by surprise, as I thought that much of it was understood at this point. But, no- scientists don’t know much about it, they don’t know why a lot of the sleep disorders that people have exist, and they don’t even confidently know why we dream at night. I don’t know about you, but that fact shocks me. I guess I put too much confidence in science with thinking we had it all figured out, but regardless, there’s always going to be more to find out.

I’ve got an idea, maybe an unofficial theory, about a sleep disorder that is probably regarded as the most mysterious of them all. And, I’m gonna attempt to explain it in simple terms, without dragging on, because I’m selling myself on it and I want other people to be sold. Maybe a professional research scientist will read this and he will get funding and figure out a solution to a currently-solution-less disorder. I’m just joking, by the way, but read on if you’re interested.

So the disorder I’m referring to is known as “idiopathic hypersomnia”. Never heard of it? I don’t blame you. I’d never heard of it before I got technically “diagnosed” with it. The idea of this disorder is just a blanket term when they don’t know what’s making you sleepy, really. No, that’s exactly what the term exists for- the word “idiopathic” means of unknown origin, and “hypersomnia” is just a fancy word for super-sleepy. In simple terms, this disorder is “super sleepy for an unknown reason”. Could be anything- anemia, depression, chronic fatigue, etc. But, they can’t figure it out, so they diagnose this. It’s pretty rare, because there are so many other causes for sleepiness, and once they are all ruled out (or, one is misdiagnosed), you’re left with idiopathic hypersomnia.

Usually, idiopathic hypersonic is associated with narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a sleep-wake disorder where your brain can’t regulate sleep cycles normally, causing you to wake up a lot during the night and potentially be so tired during the day that you fall asleep. The difference in the two is very blurred. They both have all of the same symptoms, except muscle weakness known as cataplexy is unique to narcolepsy, and narcoleptics usually fall into REM sleep immediately upon napping. Oh, by the way- the diagnostic ‘test’ for narcolepsy is a series of naps, and they measure how long it takes you to fall asleep… to see that you’re actually sleepy and you’re not faking it or misinterpreting it. You fall asleep on most of the 5 naps under 8 minutes, and enter REM in any of the naps, you get narcolepsy as the diagnosis. You fall asleep in the same amount of  naps in the same amount of time (aka, you’re just as sleepy), yet you don’t hit REM sleep in any naps, you’re diagnosed with IH.

So, as the word suggests, this disorder hasn’t been solved. ‘Idiopathic’ anything is just something that hasn’t been explained yet. Cause and effect. Everything has a cause or an origin.

Anyways, with that brief and probably confusing background, I’ll give my theory.

So as far as modern science understands, the daytime sleepiness seen in narcolepsy is caused by the brain losing it’s ability to regulate sleep wake cycles, and this is most likely caused by the loss of wakefulness-promoting neurons in the brain (named hypocretins). If your brain doesn’t have the regulatory neurons to keep you awake during the day and to shift stages of sleep at night properly, then you won’t be sleeping well- and you’ll be sleep deprived no matter what. That’s in narcolepsy.

I’ve heard from many doctors and people online that in IH (idiopathic hypersomnia), sleep at night looks relatively normal, unlike narcolepsy where it’s dysfunctional and fragmented. So I look over my results for the 1000th time- and notice one thing that stands out- the number of “sleep stage shifts”. That is the number of times your brain changes it’s brainwave activity, from high frequency in light NREM sleep, to low frequency in delta wave deep sleep. I’ve looked up various personal accounts of sleep studies, read a few published research articles, and read personal responses online, and discovered that your brain is supposed to only shift between stages 7-10 times per hour. That way, it can stay in a stage, get it’s benefits, and maintain your sleep.

My number of sleep stage shifts? 200. Yep. I slept around 8 hours that night, so that equates to about 25 shifts an hour. My sleep was not at all staying in a certain stage; it was constantly jumping up and down and never having any continuity.

There are reports online that make the plea that doctors should pay attention to this, but when going over a sleep study, they don’t pay attention to how many times your brain switches stages, only the technical “awakenings” you had. Being in stage 1 sleep, I’ve learned, is not refreshing and you essentially feel awake. 105 of my sleep stage shifts were back to stage 1. That is enough to make even the longest night of sleep feel un-refreshing. So is this idiopathic, or did I just figure something for myself?

Don’t take my word for it, read an actual scientific study performed, a study that highlights exactly what I’m talking about, and concludes that “number of sleep stage shifts in a night can impact daytime sleepiness”-

What I’m rambling about, is that maybe the cause of idiopathic hypersomnia is this. The brain’s inability to stay in certain stages of sleep continually. If it is the cause, that’s something worth looking into. I have no power here, however, I’m just a 20 year old who is blogging it. But that would be something, if this theory became a scientifically backed up cause. It’s a long shot, but I wanted to write, and this is what I’ve been honestly thinking about.

Thanks for reading

Luca DeJesu, 4:19 PM

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