A Quick Guide: Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Learn the signs of rheumatoid arthritis, which affects millions of Americans.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is the most common form of autoimmune arthritis, affecting more than 1.3 million Americans. Of these, about 75 percent are women. In fact, 1–3 percent of women may get rheumatoid arthritis in their lifetime. The disease most often begins between the fourth and sixth decades of life. However, RA can start at any age.

RA is a chronic (long-term) disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling and limited motion and function of many joints. While RA can affect any joint, the small joints in the hands and feet tend to be involved most often. Inflammation sometimes can affect organs as well, for instance, the eyes or lungs.

Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Tender, warm, swollen joints
  • Symmetrical pattern of affected joints
  • Joint inflammation often affecting the wrist and finger joints closest to the hand
  • Joint inflammation sometimes affecting other joints, including the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles and feet
  • Fatigue, occasional fevers, a loss of energy
  • Pain and stiffness lasting for more than 30 minutes in the morning or after a long rest
  • Symptoms that last for many years
  • Variability of symptoms among people with the disease.

Who has Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Scientists estimate that about 1.5 million people, or about 0.6 percent of the U.S. adult population, have RA. Interestingly, some recent studies have suggested that although the number of new cases of RA for older people is increasing, the overall number of new cases may actually be going down.

RA occurs in all races and ethnic groups. Although the disease often begins in middle age and occurs with increased frequency in older people, older teenagers and young adults may also be diagnosed with the disease. Children and younger teenagers may be diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (a condition related to RA). Like some other forms of arthritis, RA occurs much more frequently in women than in men. About two to three times as many women as men have the disease.

How does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect People’s Lives?

RA affects people differently. Some people have mild or moderate forms of the disease, with periods of worsening symptoms, called flares, and periods in which they feel better, called remissions. Others have a severe form of the disease that is active most of the time, lasts fro many years or a lifetime and leads to serious joint damage and disability.

Although RA is primarily a disease of the joints, its effects are not just physical. Many people with RA also experience issues related to:

  • Depression
  • feelings of helplessness
  • low self-esteem

RA can affect virtually every part of a person’s life, from work life to family life. It can also interfere with the joys and responsibilities of family life and may affect the decision to have children.

Finally…

The rheumatologists at Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic specialize in treating patients with arthritis, gout, lupus and related diseases.  Knowledge of these diseases continues to expand through research efforts.  Our major goal is to limit any arthritic damage, especially in rheumatoid arthritis.  Our services include bone density testing, joint injections and an IV infusion clinic for new medications.  Our rheumatologists are armed with the latest information regarding your disease and treatment options to improve your quality of life. Contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment.

(Some information provided by the American College of Rheumatology).

Taking Blood Clots Seriously

Emergency Victim

Courtesy of UrbanHospital.org

Know the Signs of Blood Clots Before They Become Medical Emergencies

Blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis, are serious business. They can lead to a pulmonary embolism which is a medical emergency that results in death in about one of every three people diagnosed. It is important to know the signs and get treated right away.

Blood clots usually occur in people who can’t move around well or who have had recent surgery or an injury. You may also get a blood clot if you:

  • Have had recent surgery.
  • Are 65 or older.
  • Take hormones, especially for birth control. (Ask your doctor about this).
  • Have had cancer or are being treated for it.
  • Are obese.
  • Are confined to bed or a chair much of the time.
  • Have had a stroke or are paralyzed.
  • Have varicose (VAR­e­kos) or bad veins.
  • Have heart trouble.
  • Have taken a long trip (more than an hour) in a car, airplane, bus,
    or train.

Symptoms and Signs of a Blood Clot

You may have a blood clot if you see or feel:

  • New swelling in your arm or leg.
  • Soreness or pain in your arm or leg.
  • A warm spot on your leg

Blood Clots Affecting the Lungs

A blood clot may have gone to your lungs if you suddenly have:

  • A hard time breathing.
  • Chest pain.
  • A fast heartbeat.
  • Fainting spells.
  • A mild fever.
  • A cough, with or without blood.

Our pulmonary specialists at Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic specialize in treating patients with lung and respiratory disorders. We use ventilation/perfusion nuclear lung scanning, CT, and other tests to evaluate pulmonary diseases.

Flu Season is Here

Visit the Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic for your very important flu shot.

A new year is quickly approaching.
And with a new year come new deductibles.
So, be sure to take advantage of the rest of the year by scheduling your next appointment at Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic.
Also, remember that cold weather can bring flu.
Make your wellness check up count by getting your flu shots.

Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic – The answer for flu season

Benefits of the Flu Shot

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here are some of the benefits of getting a flu shot.
  1. The flu shot helps keep you from getting sick with the flu.
  2. The flu shot can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working-age adults and older adults.
  3. Flu vaccination helps prevent serious medical events associated with some chronic conditions.
  4. The flu shot helps protect women during and after pregnancy.
  5. Flu vaccination can be life saving for children.
  6. The flu shot reduces the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
  7. Getting vaccinated helps protect people around you, including children, older people and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Factors That Determine Risk for Surgery in Pediatric Patients With Crohn’s Disease

Learn more about Crohn’s Disease and the risks involved with surgery in young patients. 


Our Gastroenterology department at Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic can help you get through the difficulties
of Crohn’s Disease. Watch this helpful video summarizing questions you may have about young people who suffer from Crohn’s.

Gastroenterology: ADC

Daniel A. Beggs, M.D.
R. Todd Ellington, Jr., M.D.
Thomas Johnson, M.D.
Jake Lennard, M.D.
James E. Lusby, M.D.

Factors That Determine Risk for Surgery in Pediatric Patients With Crohn’s Disease

Background & Aims

We examined the incidence of Crohn’s disease (CD)-related surgery in a multi-center, inception cohort of pediatric patients with CD. We also examined the effect of starting immunomodulator therapy within 30 days of diagnosis.

Methods

Data from 854 children with CD from the Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease Collaborative Research Group who were diagnosed with CD between 2002 and 2008 were analyzed.

Results

Overall, 76 (9%) underwent a first CD-related surgery, 57 (7%) underwent a first bowel surgery (bowel resection, ostomy, strictureplasty, or appendectomy), and 19 (2%) underwent a first non-bowel surgery (abscess drainage or fistulotomy). The cumulative risks for bowel surgery, non-bowel surgery, and all CD-related surgeries were 3.4%, 1.4%, and 4.8%, respectively, at 1 year after diagnosis and 13.8%, 4.5%, and 17.7%, respectively, at 5 years after diagnosis. Older age at diagnosis, greater disease severity, and stricturing or penetrating disease increased the risk of bowel surgery. Disease between the transverse colon and rectum decreased the risk. Initiation of immunomodulator therapy within 30 days of diagnosis, sex, race, and family history of inflammatory bowel disease did not influence the risk of bowel surgery.

Conclusions

In an analysis of pediatric patients with CD, the 5-year cumulative risk of bowel surgery was lower than that reported in recent studies of adult and pediatric patients but similar to that of a recent retrospective pediatric study. Initiation of immunomodulator therapy at diagnosis did not alter the risk of surgery within 5 years of diagnosis.

Enjoying Paradise – Tips to Avoid Travel Illness

As you plan your exotic summer vacation, the excitement of what lies ahead begins to really grow. But, have you asked yourself the question, “What if, among the once-in-a-lifetime paradise I am visiting, I do something to leave me stuck inside my hotel room sick?” Let us offer you some tips to keep you in tip-top shape while you’re in paradise.

Because really, wouldn’t you rather be enjoying this:

Palm Beach

Instead of this:

Sick in a Hotel

Vaccinations

  • You should get vaccinated against any diseases that may be endemic to the region you’re headed to at least four weeks before a trip out of the country.
  • Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site to learn more about diseases you could come in contact with during your trip.

To Reduce Contamination in your Food and Water

In countries with poor sanitation:

  • Don’t drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth. Use filtered or bottled water instead.
  • Ice in your drinks could spell disaster, so avoid it altogether. Bottled drinks with a seal are usually safe, and so are boiled water and hot drinks made with boiled water.
  • If food has been kept at room temperature in warm locations, it could have been exposed to flies. Try only eating food that is served hot.
  • Don’t eat salads, uncooked fruits and vegetables unless you’ve washed and peeled them yourself.

Staying Away from Bug Bites

  • If you are visiting an area where mosquitos are common, sleep under a mosquito net to avoid being bitten at night. Extra tip: Carry a small sewing kit with you to repair any holes in the net.
  • Malaria mosquitoes bite between dusk and dawn, so being indoors during these hours can reduce the number of bites.
  • Using products with DEET are the most effective insect repellents, but be sure to read the directions for their proper use.
  • Avoid tight clothing, which mosquitos can bite through. Wear loose-fitting clothing in malaria hotspots.

Don’t let Jet Lag Ruin your Vacation/Treat it Early

  • Jet lag can throw off your biological clock, which weakens your immune system. Try adjusting to your new schedule at least a week before you travel, if possible. Go to sleep and wake up earlier/later depending on which direction you’re heading.
  • Don’t try to cure jet lag with caffeine or alcohol. This will give you an inefficient amount of sleep and possibly make conditions worse.

Follow these tips, and plan for your safety on upcoming trips. Proper planning will allow you to make the most of your vacation and come back with great stories to tell your friends and family.

— — —

If you are traveling out the country, set up a consultation with our travel medicine specialist, J. Taylor Carlisle, M.D. at 358-0200.

Workouts Help Sleep Quality

Regular exercise helps improve sleep
Diet and exercise will always be the best diagnosis a doctor can give you. Often, it’s the simple things that can help reduce your risk of sleep apnea, an increasingly common form of sleep deprivation that affects millions of Americans. Come visit the Clinic’s Sleep Center for more information regarding sleep apnea. Our world class medical staff has been helping victims of sleep apnea for decades.
Visit the Sleep Center website.

How Does Exercise Affect Sleep and Energy?

People who regularly hit the gym sleep better and feel more alert during the day than those who are not as physically active, according to a study.

The results showed that people who did 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week reported a 65-percent improvement in sleep quality.

“Physical activity may not just be good for the waistline and heart, but it also can help you sleep,” study researcher Brad Cardinal, professor of exercise science at Oregon State University, said in a statement.

Participants who worked out for at least 150 minutes also said that they felt less drowsy during the daytime, compared with those who were less physically active.

(People who got 150 minutes of exercise a week reported a 65-percent improvement in their sleep quality.)

Cardinal and his colleagues studied a nationally representative sample of more than 2,600 men and women between ages 18 and 85.The study adds to the evidence showing that “regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep,” Cardinal said.

The study showed that the risk of often feeling overly sleepy during the day dropped by 65 percent for the more active participants.

The study authors noted that the national guideline that recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week was originally set to improve cardiovascular health, but their findings show that that level of exercise has other health benefits as well. Approximately 35 to 40 percent of adults in the U.S. have problems falling asleep or experience daytime sleepiness, according to the National Institutes of Health.

What If You’re Too Tired to Work Out?

The researchers also found that participants who met the physical activity guidelines were 68 percent less likely to experience leg cramps while sleeping, and 45 percent less likely to have difficulty concentrating when tired.

If you often experience daytime drowsiness, it may seem contradictory to spend even more of your lagging energy by going for a run or attending a Zumba class, but such physical exertion will actually make you feel more awake, according to the researchers.

“There are trade-offs. It may be easier when you are tired to skip the workout and go to sleep, but it may be beneficial for your long-term health to make the hard decision and get your exercise,” Cardinal said.

Pass it on: People who get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week sleep better and feel more alert during the day than those who are not as physically active.

Planning for Your Healthy Baby: Pregnancy and Diabetes (Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic)

By Rachel Pessah Pollack, MD

Do you have diabetes? Are you thinking about getting pregnant?

If so, there are things you need to do for the health of you and your baby during pregnancy. Your blood sugar control is very important.

Diabetes during pregnancy is on the rise.

healthy pregnancy with diabetes

More and more people are getting diabetes. There are about 1.5 million new cases per year. As a result, many more women with type 2 diabetes are becoming pregnant.

Elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels during pregnancy are bad. They can cause a higher risk of birth defects, miscarriage, birth injury, preterm delivery and certain complications such as pre-eclampsia. By being careful with blood sugar levels before becoming pregnant and during the early weeks of pregnancy, these potential problems can be prevented.

Here is what you can do to optimize your care and ensure a successful outcome.

Tips for Diabetics During Pregnancy

  • Schedule your doctors’ visits.
    • Your doctor may send you to a specialist before you get pregnant to help you with your diabetes control.
    • Obstetrical [ob-steh-trih-kal] care – some patients with diabetes may see obstetricians [ob-steh-TRIH-shen] who specialize in high-risk pregnancies. Your doctor will help you make this decision based on how long you have had diabetes and how well your diabetes is controlled.
    • Eye disease – every woman with diabetes should see an eye doctor for an eye examination before getting pregnant. You may be counseled on the risk of getting diabetic eye disease (retinopathy [reh-tin-AH-pah-thee]). Eye exams are also recommended in the first trimester, during pregnancy, and after birth. Sometimes the eye disease may become worse with pregnancy; however, this risk can be prevented with laser surgery.
    • Kidney disease – all women with diabetes who want to get pregnant should be checked for diabetic kidney disease (nephropathy [neh-FRA-pah-thee]). A urine test is used for this test.
    • High blood pressure – your doctor will want to make sure that your blood pressure is under good control before you get pregnant. You may have to switch or add blood pressure medications.
    • Nerve disease – your doctor may suggest you see a foot specialist (podiatrist [poe-DYE-ah-trist]) to determine if you have diabetic nerve disease. This is also known as peripheral neuropathy [per-IH-fer-al noor-AH-puh-thee]. It is important to take good care of your feet before and during pregnancy and to check your feet each day to keep infections at bay.
  • Focus on healthy eating now
    • Before pregnancy, it is a good time to pay close attention to what you eat. Eating properly is important to achieve and maintain normal sugar levels throughout pregnancy. You are hopefully already following a healthy diabetes diet, including fruits, vegetables, and fiber. You can continue to eat the same foods as you plan for pregnancy. However, be aware that, during pregnancy, how many carbohydrates there are in each meal is the most important factor affecting your blood sugar control, both before and after your meals. It may be useful to meet with a registered dietician or diabetes educator before you get pregnant. This will help you learn how to count calories and choose healthy foods. In addition to watching your diet, all women who want to become pregnant should take a daily prenatal multivitamin containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. Folic acid prevents neural tube defects, such as spina bifida [spine-a BIH-fid-a] in babies.
  • Target normal blood sugar levels
    • Studies have shown that poor blood sugar control during pregnancy can lead to poor pregnancy outcomes and risk for birth defects. During the first trimester, the baby’s organs are forming and normal sugar levels can decrease the risk of any problems during this period. For this reason, it is very important to wait to conceive until blood sugars are under excellent control.
    • Hemoglobin A1C, which is a measurement of your blood glucose control over the prior two to three months, should be checked before you get pregnant to help with your overall diabetes treatment plan. Talk with your health care provider about what your blood sugar range and A1C level should be both before pregnancy and during pregnancy to reach your goal of a normal blood sugar. Blood glucose self-monitoring is recommended by many different diabetes organizations (each has different target levels). During pregnancy you will be asked to check blood sugar levels one to two hours after the first bite of your meal. This is different from when you weren’t pregnant.
  • Review your medications for safety
    • Before you get pregnant, have your doctor review your medications and determine if you need to switch them to ones that are safe in pregnancy. Some examples are listed below:
      • Diabetes medications – Many of the diabetes pills that are taken when not pregnant cannot be taken when pregnant. Before you get pregnant discuss with your doctor whether you may need to start insulin before or during pregnancy. Or, you might find out that diet and carbohydrate monitoring are all you need. In general, if insulin is needed, you will likely need to use more insulin the further you get into your pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. Although there is some good data with certain pills for diabetes, it is not known how safe and effective they are, and insulin is often recommended to control blood sugar.
      • Blood pressure medications: ACE inhibitors and ARBs used for blood pressure control and kidney disease are not advised during pregnancy, since they are likely to harm the baby. Before you get pregnant, consult your health care team about changing your blood pressure medications.
      • High-cholesterol medications: “Statins,” a class of medication used for its cholesterol-lowering effects, should be stopped before you get pregnant.
  • Evaluate your pre-pregnancy weight
    • Women with diabetes who are overweight or obese have a higher chance of having problems during pregnancy. These problems include higher rates of cesarean section, high blood pressure, birth defects, and premature infants. The good news is that if you are overweight and are able to reduce or normalize your body weight before you get pregnant, you can prevent many of these poor outcomes from occurring. Losing just a few pounds can help you maintain better control of your sugars and lower your blood pressure.
  • Plan to exercise
    • Once your doctor has decided that you are healthy for physical activity, add exercise to your daily regimen. Choose activities that you enjoy and are most likely to continue with and have a goal of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. Keeping fit will help with both weight loss and control of your blood sugar. Check your sugar level before and after exercising because you may need to eat a snack to prevent low blood sugar during physical activity. Continue your exercise routine during pregnancy unless your doctor advises against it.
  • Avoid bad habits
    • It is very important to get counseling from your doctor before you become pregnant so that you have a healthy pregnancy. Women with diabetes should be screened for depression, tobacco and alcohol use, drug abuse, weight management, and exercise.
    • If you are a smoker or are still drinking alcohol, the perfect time to stop is before you get pregnant.
    • If you are abusing drugs (prescription/non-prescription), now is the time to stop and get help if necessary.
    • If you have missed doses of insulin or if you don’t take your medications as prescribed, focus on taking the best care of your body as you prepare for pregnancy and avoid missing doses.
  • Know when you need to wait
  • It is important for each woman with diabetes to know when a pregnancy is not safe. If your diabetes is not under good control, you should wait to become pregnant. By working with your health care team and making adjustments to your treatment, you can improve control of your blood sugar and ensure a healthy outcome for you and your baby.

There is a lot of planning to be done. However, you must remember that the patience and additional work is worth the end result: your healthy baby!

Dr. Rachel Pessah Pollack has a special interest in pregnancy-related endocrine disorders. She has published articles and given presentations on gestational diabetes, Cushing’s disease during pregnancy, and iodine deficiency during pregnancy.

Stomach Aches and Pains: Do You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS affects at least 10–15 percent of adults and is a common issue around the world.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a long-term and many times reoccurring disorder that affects the functioning of your stomach and intestines. It usually involves disturbances in the colon and small intestine which can involve symptoms of:

  • abdominal pain or discomfort,
  • bloating or a sense of gaseousness, and
  • a change in bowel habits (diarrhea and/or constipation).

IBS affects at least 10–15 percent of adults and is a common issue around the world. In fact, it is second only to the common cold as a cause of absenteeism from work.

The Most Common Symptoms of IBS

Common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are abdominal pain and discomfort which are often improved with a bowel movement. The causes for abdominal pain are usually associated with a change in bowel habits (diarrhea and/or constipation).

Symptoms can change over time, with periods when symptoms flare up as well as periods of remission when they diminish or disappear. The main bowel habit can vary over time, alternating between constipation and diarrhea.

Other symptoms of IBS include:

  • bloating (a sensation of fullness in the belly),
  • urgency (the need to use a restroom in a hurry),
  • mucus (white or yellow liquid) in the stool, and
  • the sensation of incompletely passing stools.

How is IBS Diagnosed?

The first steps are to confidently recognize the diagnosis of IBS and remove the suspicion of other diseases. In making a positive diagnosis, a physician will check for the most common symptoms of IBS. The next important step is to look for signs and symptoms that suggest a condition other than IBS, such as inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, or celiac disease. These signs and symptoms are referred to as “alarm signs” or “red flags.” They include:

  • anemia and other abnormal blood tests
  • blood in the stool
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fever
  • new onset of symptoms at the age of 50 or older
  • family history of inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, or celiac disease

These alarm signs usually do not occur because of IBS. They suggest other medical problems. When these symptoms occur, you should tell your doctor right away.

If your doctor suspects you have IBS, an evaluation will follow starting with a detailed history to identify the characteristic symptoms of IBS, and a physical examination. There is no test for IBS. Lab blood and stool tests, x-rays, and endoscopic procedures (e.g., colonoscopy) are used to rule out other diseases of the bowel, which can present with similar symptoms. These tests are common for people with IBS.

Click here to read more.

ADC Endoscopy Specialists Center provides quality care with comfort and convenience to their patients in ColonoscopiesFlexible Sigmoidoscopies, and Esophogogastroduodenoscopy(EGD). ADC Endoscopy Specialists Center is licensed by the Texas Department of State Health Services and certified for Medicare services.

Surefire Ways to Relieve Work Stress With a Vacation

Understand the benefits of taking time off from work, and heed these tips for a successful, stress-free break from the office.

Take a stress-free vacation

Vacations are important to your mental health. Stay organized at work so you can enjoy your time away from the office.

While it’s hard to fit into our busy schedules, taking some time off work is healthy. The many health benefits of taking a vacation include reduced blood pressure, relieved stress, reduced exhaustion and better-quality sleep. In other words, experts recommend the occasional break from work. 

More stress relieving benefits of taking a true break away from work include a boost of creativity, more time to spend on healthy habits and increased productivity.

But just the thought of taking a vacation stresses some people out. Many people chose to skip vacations because of the stress of being away from the office. It’s all about pre-vacation planning and a smooth transition out of the office.

What steps can I take before vacation to make sure my tasks get done without me?

  • Ensure that all project calendars are updated, and make sure the appropriate teammates are tagged in the calendars
  • Complete work as far in advance as possible before leaving, and update your teammates of the status
  • Set up an auto-email response and voicemail. It’s helpful to include an out-of-office message such as, “I’m on vacation through March 17. Please allow a delay in my response. If you need immediate assistance, please contact my colleague, jim@company.com.”
  • Delegate projects/responsibilities to your colleagues
  • Organize and clean your office space for a pleasant return
  • Have a plan in place in case of work emergencies, including points of contact and protocols
  • Plan a post-vacation debriefing with a trusted colleague

How do I destress during vacation?

While on vacation, stay disconnected! So much planning and preparation have gone into being away, so don’t worry about checking your phone/laptop to see what you’re missing. Turn off all notifications, leave work technology behind, and silence your personal cell phone. Give yourself permission to stay disconnected and have a great time.

How do I get back into work mode after vacation?

Once you’ve enjoyed your time away, getting back to work can be nerve-wracking. Of course, you wonder what you missed. To prevent this feeling, don’t overload your schedule for the day you get back. Spread out meetings for the week, meet with a colleague to review what you missed and spend time organizing and responding to emails.

Vacation doesn’t have to be stressful. Be strategic with your vacation planning, and follow through with your work responsibilities. Enjoy your vacation and all the health benefits it brings!

How Do I Take a Mini Vacation at Work?

  • Move! Set an alarm to get pull away from your desk, get out of your chair and stretch with a quick walk or a couple sets of stairs. Movement breaks are especially important for those who work desk jobs.
  • Take one day off! Even short interval breaks between long work days are necessary to keep your brain stimulated to produce better work.

Sleep Study Findings: Why Do We Sleep, Anyway?

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Hunger and Eating/Sleepiness and Sleep: Powerful Internal Drives

A resource from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School


While we might not often think about why we sleep, most of us acknowledge at some level that sleep makes us feel better. We feel more alert, more energetic, happier and better able to function following a good night of sleep. However, the fact that sleep makes us feel better and that going without sleep makes us feel worse only begins to explain why sleep might be necessary.

One way to think about the function of sleep is to compare it to another of our life-sustaining activities: eating. Hunger is a protective mechanism that has evolved to ensure that we consume the nutrients our bodies require to grow, repair tissues, and function properly. And although it is relatively easy to grasp the role that eating serves— given that it involves physically consuming the substances our bodies need—eating and sleeping are not as different as they might seem.

Both eating and sleeping are regulated by powerful internal drives. Going without food produces the uncomfortable sensation of hunger, while going without sleep makes us feel overwhelmingly sleepy. And just as eating relieves hunger and ensures that we obtain the nutrients we need, sleeping relieves sleepiness and ensures that we obtain the sleep we need. Still, the question remains: Why do we need sleep at all? Is there a single primary function of sleep, or does sleep serve many functions?

An Unanswerable Question?

Scientists have explored the question of why we sleep from many different angles. They have examined, for example, what happens when humans or other animals are deprived of sleep. In other studies, they have looked at sleep patterns in a variety of organisms to see if similarities or differences among species might reveal something about sleep’s functions. Yet, despite decades of research and many discoveries about other aspects of sleep, the question of why we sleep has been difficult to answer.

The lack of a clear answer to this challenging question does not mean that this research has been a waste of time. In fact, we now know much more about the function of sleep, and scientists have developed several promising theories to explain why we sleep. In light of the evidence they have gathered, it seems likely that no single theory will ever be proven correct. Instead, we may find that sleep is explained by two or more of these explanations. The hope is that by better understanding why we sleep, we will learn to respect sleep’s functions more and enjoy the health benefits it affords.

This essay outlines several current theories of why we sleep. To learn more about them, be sure to check out the “Bookshelf” feature at the end of this essay. There you’ll find links to articles by researchers who are studying this fascinating question.

What are Some Theories for Why We Sleep?

Inactivity Theory

One of the earliest theories of sleep, sometimes called the adaptive or evolutionary theory, suggests that inactivity at night is an adaptation that served a survival function by keeping organisms out of harm’s way at times when they would be particularly vulnerable. The theory suggests that animals that were able to stay still and quiet during these periods of vulnerability had an advantage over other animals that remained active. These animals did not have accidents during activities in the dark, for example, and were not killed by predators. Through natural selection, this behavioral strategy presumably evolved to become what we now recognize as sleep.

A simple counter-argument to this theory is that it is always safer to remain conscious in order to be able to react to an emergency (even if lying still in the dark at night). Thus, there does not seem to be any advantage of being unconscious and asleep if safety is paramount.

Energy Conservation Theory

Although it may be less apparent to people living in societies in which food sources are plentiful, one of the strongest factors in natural selection is competition for and effective utilization of energy resources. The energy conservation theory suggests that the primary function of sleep is to reduce an individual’s energy demand and expenditure during part of the day or night, especially at times when it is least efficient to search for food.

Research has shown that energy metabolism is significantly reduced during sleep (by as much as 10 percent in humans and even more in other species). For example, both body temperature and caloric demand decrease during sleep, as compared to wakefulness. Such evidence supports the proposition that one of the primary functions of sleep is to help organisms conserve their energy resources. Many scientists consider this theory to be related to, and part of, the inactivity theory.

Restorative Theories

Another explanation for why we sleep is based on the long-held belief that sleep in some way serves to “restore” what is lost in the body while we are awake. Sleep provides an opportunity for the body to repair and rejuvenate itself. In recent years, these ideas have gained support from empirical evidence collected in human and animal studies. The most striking of these is that animals deprived entirely of sleep lose all immune function and die in just a matter of weeks. This is further supported by findings that many of the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during sleep.

Other rejuvenating aspects of sleep are specific to the brain and cognitive function. For example, while we are awake, neurons in the brain produce adenosine, a by-product of the cells’ activities. The build-up of adenosine in the brain is thought to be one factor that leads to our perception of being tired. (Incidentally, this feeling is counteracted by the use of caffeine, which blocks the actions of adenosine in the brain and keeps us alert.) Scientists think that this build-up of adenosine during wakefulness may promote the “drive to sleep.” As long as we are awake, adenosine accumulates and remains high. During sleep, the body has a chance to clear adenosine from the system, and, as a result, we feel more alert when we wake.

Brain Plasticity Theory

One of the most recent and compelling explanations for why we sleep is based on findings that sleep is correlated to changes in the structure and organization of the brain. This phenomenon, known as brain plasticity, is not entirely understood, but its connection to sleep has several critical implications. It is becoming clear, for example, that sleep plays a critical role in brain development in infants and young children. Infants spend about 13 to 14 hours per day sleeping, and about half of that time is spent in REM sleep, the stage in which most dreams occur. A link between sleep and brain plasticity is becoming clear in adults as well. This is seen in the effect that sleep and sleep deprivation have on people’s ability to learn and perform a variety of tasks.

This theory and the role of sleep in learning are covered in greater detail in Sleep, Learning, and Memory.
Although these theories remain unproven, science has made tremendous strides in discovering what happens during sleep and what mechanisms in the body control the cycles of sleep and wakefulness that help define our lives. While this research does not directly answer the question, “Why do we sleep?” it does set the stage for putting that question in a new context and generating new knowledge about this essential part of life.

For more about why we sleep, watch the video Why Sleep Matters and explore Consequences of Insufficient Sleep.


Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic is the only Sleep Center in the Panhandle area accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Give us a call at 806-358-0200 to set up your sleep study.