Insomnia in the Mountains
Tips to help you achieve restful sleep at altitude
Are you chasing mountain dreams? Many of us dream of owning a vacation home or retiring in the high country, but once we’re there we find that we just don’t sleep very well. And as those who have experienced it know, insomnia can both figuratively and literally prevent those dreams from coming true.
There’s a physiological explanation for your lack of restful sleep.
You are probably aware that the lack of oxygen at elevation can cause Altitude Sickness. You might not be aware that it can also cause a type of sleep apnea called High Altitude Periodic Breathing. It can start at around 6,000 feet and might continue even after the body has otherwise adjusted.
Breathing at night is different than breathing during the day.
Breaths naturally become slower and spaced farther apart. At altitude, where there are fewer air molecules brought into the lungs with each breath, this slower breathing leads to decreased blood oxygen levels. The body compensates by breathing more quickly and more deeply. The increased breathing succeeds in improving the blood’s oxygen concentration, but it also decreases its carbon dioxide concentration.
This creates a secondary problem because our body uses carbon dioxide concentration as the primary signal for the body to breathe. Without adequate carbon dioxide, breathing momentarily stops, which is called apnea. The cessation of breathing leads to a lack of oxygen after 12 seconds or so and a sudden gasp for air. The jolt allows breaths to return to normal, which starts the cycle again. The result can be a fitful, restless night’s sleep.
Poor sleep results in a host of negative side effects.
Fatigue, irritability, shortened attention span during the day: these are not part of the recipe for an enjoyable visit to the mountains! Some people acclimate fairly quickly, and only lose a few days of fun. Others chase their dreams for much longer. Some never adjust. Physiological changes as the body ages – specifically the changes in sleep quality and the reduction in lung function – might mean some who were once able to tolerate sleeping at altitude now find themselves groggy and plagued by headaches.
Fortunately, the solution is simple: oxygen.
Sleeping in an oxygenated room removes the conditions that lead to High Altitude Periodic Breathing. And just eight hours of oxygenated sleep can also alleviate the common altitude-related symptoms that would otherwise occur during the day. If your pre-existing medical conditions are aggravated by altitude, nocturnal oxygen can help that too.
We recommend a whole room oxygenation system; one that scientifically simulates a lower altitude. Just six to eight hours of oxygen at night is enough to restore the body’s oxygen saturation to normal levels. These few hours interrupt the cycle of hypoxia (low oxygen) that causes mountain sickness.
Sleeping with oxygen leads to better sleep, and much more.
Oxygen at altitude leads to more restful sleep; and the benefits of a good night’s sleep are well-documented—from increased mental clarity and improved digestion to more energy (which leads to better moods) and faster recovery from exercise. In addition, oxygen at altitude is known to prevent altitude sickness. In short, supplemental oxygen at altitude leads to a better night’s sleep which makes your time in the mountains all the more enjoyable!
Pam Stone is the Product Marketing Manager at Altitude Control Technology, pioneers of the world’s most advanced oxygen-controlled altitude simulation technology, based in Edwards, Colorado. View ACT’s profile or contact them at (970) 528-1300
Content for this article provided by Altitude Control Technology