As the days get longer, we are exposed to more light, and are more likely to wake up earlier and go to sleep later. For many of us living in the gray Pacific Northwest, this is our happy time! We have more daylight for gardening and outdoor recreation after working a full day and the extra vitamin D puts us in a better mood. However, if we get less than five to seven hours of sleep on a regular basis, we can age faster, increase our health risks for heart disease, heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes to name the top few. Sleep deprived people complain of poor energy and brain fog and inability to perform well at school or work. Brain studies show that lack of sleep can also increase our risk for dementia and increased dependence on others for self-care.
Lack of sleep is also a major cause of automobile accidents and according to a December 2016 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic and Safety found that “drivers who usually sleep for less than 5 hours daily, drivers who have slept for less than 7 hours in the past 24 hours, and drivers who have slept for 1 or more hours less than their usual amount of sleep in the past 24 hours have significantly elevated crash rates. The U.S. government estimates sleep deprivation is similar to driving with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or slightly above the legal limit for alcohol in the U.S.”
A comprehensive occupational therapy (OT) evaluation will optimally consider the client’s sleep habit as an area of function because sleep deprivation affects all aspects of life and can be a serious safety concern. In some cases, symptoms can be attributed to Irlen Syndrome – a light sensitivity disorder affecting 15% of the population. The OT’s role is to identify the risk factors, address the secondary conditions that diminish sleep quality, then develop a plan to mitigate each problem for whole-person rehabilitation
Patients can benefit from OT to help them learn sleep hygiene because this is as important as gut health and exercises are for optimal cognitive and neurologic rehabilitation. OT teaches pain and fatigue management; establishing predictable routines, including regular times for waking and sleeping; addressing performance deficits or barriers to activities of daily living specific to their expected level of functioning, whether it be as basic as toileting independently or being able to perform their job without pain by body mechanics training and ergonomic assessments.
Prevention and intervention strategies to address individual, family, and population-based sleep needs lie within the scope of practice for occupational therapy and represent another way in which the profession approaches clients from a holistic perspective to help them live life to its fullest. If you or someone you know is suffering the effects of sleep deprivation such as brain fog, fatigue, poor memory and job or school performance, a referral to an OT who has several assessment tools and skills can be a life saver and a game changer!
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