It’s 5 PM. You’ve just come back from work. You took a shower, ate a nutritious meal, and decided it’s time to catch up on some reading. An hour passes, and someone’s knocking on your door. Just as you stood up, you’ve noticed something strange going on. You’re caught off guard. The world around you is spinning. You are completely off-balance. Just as you put a hand on your head to try and figure out what’s going on, nausea decides to visit you. You’re tumbling towards the bathroom while you utter “I’ll be right up!” to your friend knocking on the door.
If this scenario means something to you, you’ve probably had a close encounter with none other than Count Vertigo himself. Yeah, DC Comics found inspiration for a character in this vestibular disorder.
Apparently, 40% of the population in their mid-life age will have an encounter with vertigo at least once in their lifetime. Experiencing vertigo even for a minute is a panic-inducing sensation that will feel surreal, almost uncanny.
Furthermore, if vertigo happens to creep in on you during the night, you’ll probably have a harder time sleeping. As concerned about your sleep as we are, we’ve wanted to give you insight into what vertigo is, what causes it, and what you can do to keep it from inducing sleep deprivation.
When vertigo gets a hold on you, you will feel a sudden dizziness that can last minutes or days. That’s an understatement. You will feel more than dizzy. You will feel off-balance, and you won’t be able to regain it. It either feels like you’re spinning or the world around you is spinning. If that isn’t enough, the usual vertigo symptoms include vomiting, nausea, irregular eye movements, headaches, sweating and tinnitus.
DC Comics aren’t the only ones who introduced the idea of vertigo to pop culture. Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary movie that’s symbolically named Vertigo is a true cinematographic masterpiece; however, it puts the wrong idea about vertigo in people’s heads. The movie describes vertigo as a fear of heights, which can’t be farther from the truth. To put a stop to misconceptions, we’re here to tell you that vertigo is a vestibular condition caused by “malfunction” in your inner ear. Since the inner ear’s primary function is to maintain balance, anything that messes up its functioning will leave you with vertigo as a result.
Anything that can be described as an inner ear issue is better known as a vestibular disorder. When it comes to vestibular disorders that have vertigo as a symptom, we’ll be discussing Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, Meniere’s disease, Labyrinthitis, and vestibular neuritis.
Affecting 2% of people, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is a disorder associated with small calcium deposits developing in the inner ear canals. 80% of all vertigo cases fall under BPPV’s jurisdiction.
If your doctor tells you that you’ve got fluids building up in your inner ear, the diagnosis will turn out to be Meniere’s disease. The pressure from the fluid build up is what’s inducing vertigo and might even trigger hearing loss and tinnitus.
Finally, if there’s any inner ear inflammation as a result of a viral infection, you’ll be diagnosed with labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis. What the inflammation basically does is interfere with the vestibular system’s proper communication with your brain.
Understanding Vertigo’s Effect on Sleep
Your head is going to change positions in the process of falling asleep and waking up. Such a change in position can very well be what gets vertigo all riled up, especially in cases of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.
All of this is not good news when it comes to sleep. Trying to get shut-eye while experiencing vertigo is virtually impossible. The next thing you know, you are looking in the mirror with the dark circles around your eyes the next morning, witnessing first-hand what just a little bit of sleep deprivation does to your day.
As we’ve discussed million times earlier, a sleepless night is so much more than being sluggish and groggy the following day. Being affected by sleep deprivation, even for one night will shut down your zap your mood, and make even the easiest of tasks prone to errors. Sleep deprivation can amplify the hold vertigo has on you. Just imagine what would happen if your case of sleep deprivation and vertigo lasted for days.
Abruptly waking up from sleep is also a catalyst for vertigo onset in both benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and Meniere’s disease. The sudden change in position of your head when you jump out of bed can potentially trigger BPPV. The change in position can also trigger a fluid build up in your inner ear and potentially trigger Meniere’s disease.
Prevent Vertigo During Sleep
Don’t worry. We didn’t get you all concerned just to leave you hanging. What would a good article be without good advice and sleep tips that can, in this case, help you reduce the chances you ever encounter vertigo. The following list will all go a long way in vertigo prevention and avoiding vertigo-induced sleep deprivation. Let’s begin.
- Get to rehab
Constituted as a form of physical therapy, Vestibular rehabilitation focuses on regaining your balance and equilibrium, thus obtaining optimal functioning of your vestibular system. You see, the vestibular system is a network of all these sensory organs, and while they all have separate roles, when connected, they turn into a network that establishes a communication funnel between your brain and said sensory organs. When you go to vestibular rehab, your therapist will work with you towards regaining your balance through exercises that promote hand-eye coordination, stronger muscles and joints, and overall improved fitness. Repeat these exercises enough, the communication funnel will strengthen, which results in a healthier vestibular system.
- Give canalith repositioning maneuvers a go
If canalith repositioning maneuvers sounds too complicated for you to comprehend what the term means, you’ll crack a smile when we tell you they’re just head exercises. Also known as the Epley maneuvers, these exercises are specifically constructed to break up the calcium deposits that are typical to benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.
Caution: The exercises should be performed under the supervision of trained professionals. The pun aside, the American Academy of Neurology does recommend that you first pay a visit to a professional before attempting to do these exercises on your own. You first have to learn to do CRP correctly before you can continue practicing them in your home.
The results of CRP are considered miraculous. The exercises will devoid you of vertigo symptoms so quickly you won’t have time to snap your fingers. In fact, the percentage of people who get cured by CRP is incredibly high – 80%. In cases where Epley maneuvers fail to cure BPPV, the exercises significantly reduce the recurrence rate.
Following the completion of CRP, the American Hearing Research Foundation clearly states that you should sleep in a semi-recumbent position for the next two nights. Using an adjustable bed to tilt yourself about 45 degrees will do just fine in doing your best to follow the doctor’s orders.
- Select the right sleeping position
Since sleeping on your side can trigger BPPV and exacerbate its symptoms, it’s a position you should certainly avoid. Even tilting your head to the side or rolling in your bed is a big no-no. Unfortunately, research shows that a lot of people suffering from vertigo somehow gravitate towards this sleeping position.
On your back. You should sleep on your back if vertigo is making your head spin. This sleeping position doesn’t allow the calcium deposits shifting when it comes to BPPV, or the fluid deposits building up when we’re speaking of Meniere’s disease.
There’s no denying it – we’re creatures of habit. As such creatures, getting used to one sleeping position when we’re already used to another is an incredibly annoying process. To help you out with the shift, try using body pillows to prevent you from rolling, while your brain picks up the new habit.
- Elevate your head
If you are set out to keep vertigo from messing with your head, keep your head on a higher level. It will keep your inner ear in place when getting in and out of bed.
There’s plenty of pillows to choose from to help keep your head elevated. While wedge pillows are specifically designed to keep your head on a higher level, travel pillows will also help all of you suffering from vertigo because of their ability to get you into a habit of sleeping on your back.
Last but not least, consider buying an adjustable bed. Yeah, just like the ones they have in hospitals. And yeah, unlike in the hospital, you’re allowed to play with your adjustable bed and button mash your way up and down all you want.
- Slowly, get out of bed slowly
How you get out of bed is essential to vertigo prevention. While jumping out of bed might be a great way to kickstart your day, slowly doing it will allow your inner ear to adjust to all that moving properly. Gradually getting up, then sitting for a minute or two before walking is the best recipe to reduce the risk of vertigo.
- It all starts with the stomach
The food you put in your stomach directly impacts the quality of your sleep. A healthier and balanced diet will affect your sleep, your overall health, but anti-inflammatory foods can be exactly what you’ve been looking for to stop vertigo from making your all nauseous. So, if vertigo ever occurs, include leafy greens, bananas, avocados, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acid.
Since drinking plenty of water and limiting your caffeine and liquor intake is also crucial for vertigo prevention, it also promotes better sleep.
- Make good sleep hygiene a priority
We’ve been over this one many times. Good sleeping hygiene has all sorts of benefits on your overall health, and it’s no different with preventing vertigo too. Since sleep deprivation amplifies vertigo symptoms, be proactive about behaviors that promote quality sleep. Have at least 7 hours of sleep each night and ensure you sleep in a cool, dark, and quiet bedroom. Follow a bedtime routine that will calm you down and avoid intense exercises or heavy meals late at night. Shut down all your electronic devices at least half an hour before you go to bed, and keep them away from the bedroom. Finally, reserve your bedroom for sleep and sleep only.
There you have it, ladies and gents. We hope we covered everything we promised in the introductory paragraph, so we’ll leave you with this – if you’ve ever experienced vertigo, you are aware that it not only interferes with your day-to-day life but significantly impacts the quality of days in question. That’s why it’s imperative to visit your doctor, even on the slightest hint of vestibular disorders. Seriously, we can’t stress this enough. There are cases where vertigo was just a stepping stone for other, much more severe health issues, such as low blood pressure or even a brain tumor.
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Laura Garcia is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She holds degrees in writing from Drake University. When she’s not busy writing, Laura likes to spend as much as time as possible with her husband James and three-year-old son Elijah.