Human functioning

Sleep is necessary for normal human functioning. Our body recharges and rests during sleep and we feel energized after a sleeping. With the many activities we engage in during the day, sleep is natures way of telling our body that it need to rest or else body functioning will deteriorate (Horne, 1988). The effect of not having enough sleep is obvious, we feel drowsy, sleepy and thus our attention and thought processes are also affected which hampers our ability to function in our daily tasks. There are different forms of sleep disorders, some are manageable and some are fatal if not treated and managed.

A sleep disorder exists whenever the inability to sleep well produces impaired daytime functioning or excessive sleepiness (Horne, 1988). One of the most common sleeping problems is insomnia which is dissatisfaction with the amount or quality of one’s sleep. However, whether or not a person has insomnia is almost always a subjective decision. Many people who complain of insomnia are found to have perfectly normal sleep when studied in a sleep laboratory, whereas others who do not complain of insomnia have detectable sleep disturbances (Trinder, 1988).

Insomnia also refers to the inability to sleep; the insomniac has difficulty going to sleep although he/she may want to sleep, thus the individual may fell restless and worry because he/she is not getting enough sleep. Insomnia occasionally occurs and when it does, it affects daily functioning, it can be brought about by stress, emotional problems, caffeine and alcohol intake and activity level, it can also be a symptom of an underlying illness. Insomnia can be treated by developing healthy sleeping habits.

Like having a regular sleeping schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol an hour before sleeping, not eating heavily before bedtime, and not engaging in strenuous exercise before sleeping, making the sleeping area relaxing and free from distractions. Short term insomnia can be treated with sleeping pills but it is not advisable for long term insomnia since the pills are addictive and may cause undue harm to the insomniac. A more severe but rare sleep disorders are narcolepsy and apnea. A person with narcolepsy may fall asleep anytime, for example while paying bills, talking on the phone or while driving a car.

If a churchgoer falls asleep during a long sermon, then it is perfectly natural, but if the minister falls asleep during his sermon, then he has narcolepsy. Individuals with this dysfunction have recurring, irresistible attacks of drowsiness, and simply fall asleep at inappropriate times. These episodes can occur several times a day in severe cases and last form a few seconds to 15-30 minute intervals. Individuals who suffer from narcolepsy have difficulty keeping jobs because of their daytime sleepiness and the danger of falling asleep while driving or operating machineries.

Narcolepsy is the intrusion of REM (rapid eye movement) episodes during daytime hours. When an attack occurs, patients quickly go into REM sleep and lose muscle control and collapse before they can lie down. The disease run in families and evidence has been found that it is genetically based (Hobson, 1988). Unfortunately, narcolepsy has no cure, although it can be managed with medication. Drugs that stimulate the nervous system keep the patient awake during the day and depressants will help the patient sleep at night.

As with these types of drugs, there is the risk of addiction and also it has serious side effects. In apnea, the individual stops breathing while asleep. There are two reasons for apnea attacks, the brain fails to send a breathe signal to the diaphragm and other breathing muscles thus causing breathing to stop; or when the muscles at the top of the throat become too relaxed, allowing the windpipe to partially close, thereby forcing the breathing muscles to pull harder on incoming air, which causes the airway to completely collapse.

During an apnea episode, the oxygen level of the blood drops dramatically leading to the secretion of emergency hormones. This reaction causes the sleeper to awaken in order to begin breathing again. Most people have a few apnea episodes a night. But people with severe sleep problems may have several hundred apneas per night. With each one, they wake up in order to resume breathing, but these arousals are so brief they are generally unaware of doing so.

The result is that those who suffer fro apnea can spend 12 hours or more of sleep each night and still be sleepy the next day they cannot function and will fall asleep even in the middle of a conversation. The treatment of apnea depends on the cause of the disease, if apnea is brought about by obesity, weight loss may prove beneficial to the patient. If obstruction of breathing is caused by enlarged tonsils or deviated septum may be treated with surgery. A continuous positive airway pressure hooked to the patient’s airways during sleep prevents obstruction.

Apnea patients should never take sleeping pills because it interferes with the patient’s ability to wake up in order to resume breathing, failure to regain breathing often results to death during sleep.


Hobson, J. A. (1988). The Dreaming Brain. London: Penguin Books. Horne, J. (1988). Why We Sleep: the Functions of Sleep in Humans and Other Mammals. New York: Oxford University Press. Trinder J. (1988). Subjective insomnia without objective findings: A pseudo diagnostic classification? Psychological Bulletin, 103, pp. 87-94

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