We have often heard that people who climb up at high altitude have problems with their sleep. Is there a way to improve sleep while at high altitude? At high altitude, the best way to improve sleep is to move into an environment with a higher oxygen concentration. As an alternative, medications such as melatonin, valerian, acetazolamide, and benzodiazepine (temazepam) are often used to improve sleep. Taking the time to acclimatize, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and eating large meals, and maintaining proper hydration can all prevent disruptions of our sleep.
However, not all of these solutions will work in every situation. Not every method will be appropriate depending on the cause of the poor sleep.
Why Do You Not Get Proper Sleep At High Altitude?
Sleeping poorly may be thought of as being a result of your new environment, your uncomfortable sleeping bag, or your sore muscles.
However, your body is the chief culprit when it comes to sabotaging itself. As a result of high altitudes, we often suffocate and awaken due to disrupted breathing patterns at night. What causes this? The amount of carbon dioxide in our bodies determines how we breathe. When carbon dioxide levels are high, we breathe more, and when levels are low, we breathe less.
Oxygen levels drop from about 20% at sea level to 6% to 13% at high altitudes. In this way, periodic breathing occurs.
It goes like this. Because our body has low oxygen levels, we breathe faster and harder, causing high levels of carbon dioxide. As a result, our body’s carbon dioxide level falls and our breathing becomes slower or even stops. When this happens, carbon dioxide builds up in our bodies again, and we start breathing hard and fast. The fact that you have a subconscious struggle to breathe throughout the night must be extremely exhausting and explain why your sleep is disrupted.
A Few Tips For Improving Sleep With Oxygen, Medicine, And Preventive Measures
Oxygen Supplements While Sleeping
In order to improve sleep at high altitude, you should increase your body’s oxygen levels, since the problem is caused by a lack of oxygen.
When possible, try to get more oxygen in your room in comparison to that of those above sea level. Using oxygen cylinders or masks may be helpful if your room cannot be oxygenated.
However, the cost of such an arrangement usually makes it unattainable for most people.
Drugs and Medications:
You should consult your physician before taking any medications or drugs at high altitudes as they may affect your breathing patterns.
The following medications could help people sleep well at high altitudes:
- Our bodies produce melatonin to regulate sleep patterns. In the morning, when we need to wake up, it is usually produced less than during the night, when it aids in sleeping. It is influenced by how much sunlight you receive each day as well as your own body clock.
- Melatonin supplements are available in pill or liquid form.
- People who took Melatonin at high altitude fell asleep 20 minutes faster than those who did not.
- Valerian is an herb from which medicine is made.
- As a sedative, it helps calm the mind and body.
- There is evidence that taking valerian can reduce sleep-time by about 15 minutes to 20 minutes. As well as improving sleep quality, Valerian appears to work.
- About Valerian, you can read more here.
- By decreasing periodic breathing, acetazolamide improves sleep at high altitude. In turn, your body’s oxygen levels increase at night.
- A study on this topic can be found here.
- Benzodiazepines helps by slowing down the central nervous system of the body.
- The sleeping pill Temazepam belongs to the benzodiazepine family of medications.
Preventive measures should be taken
At higher altitudes, anything that affects your sleep in an everyday setting will undoubtedly affect it as well. During a trip, our routines might be disrupted and our diets may have changed without our knowledge.
Allow yourself time to acclimate:
Acclimatizing your body is a good way to let your body adjust to a new environment, which is commonly practiced by climbers scaling high mountains. Take a couple of days to explore a nearby town or area with a lower altitude rather than rushing to climb on the first day. If you need to store up on medications, this also allows you time to adjust to the time difference.
As an alternative, climb slowly. The gradual altitude increase will give your body time to adjust.
Avoid eating large meals before bedtime:
Sometimes, we eat a lot before a climb to prepare for the energy that will be expended in the days ahead. Eventually, we become hungry and stuff ourselves with far too much food.
In digesting the huge portion of food we have consumed, our bodies must expend quite a bit of effort. The digestive process is still taking place if we eat these meals just before bedtime. As our bodies are still active, this keeps us awake.
Instead of stuffing yourself with one large meal, eat small meals throughout the day. To ensure that the food is digested, finish eating at least 2 hours before going to bed.
Caffeine should be avoided:
Sleep deprivation and caffeine are often linked to a vicious cycle. When we don’t get enough sleep, we often turn to caffeine, possibly even in the afternoon when we can’t keep our eyes open. However, caffeine takes anywhere from four to six hours to leave the body. Guess what keeps us awake when it’s time for bed if we have that afternoon cup of coffee?
Caffeine should be avoided after lunchtime.
Alcohol should be avoided:
The consumption of alcohol might make you feel sleepy easier, but it might actually impair the quality of your sleep. The consumption of alcohol affects the production of chemicals in our body that help us fall asleep, blocks REM sleep, and may worsen breathing problems
Stay away from alcohol while climbing, as it can make you dehydrated!
High altitudes cause mouths and throats to become dry since the air is often colder and dryer. When we climb, even without sweating, we lose a lot of water. During a climb, it is easy to forget to drink enough water. When you awaken with a tickly throat, hacking cough, or dry, tickly throat, you might be unable to get a good night’s sleep.
During the day, ensure that you stay hydrated. However, do not drink excessive amounts of water in the evening, or you will wake up frequently to use the restroom.
What Are the Signs That My Sleep Is Affected?
You may have trouble sleeping if you:
- Even if it is for a few moments, you awaken frequently during the night
- Feel suffocated when you sleep
- Dream vividly or have nightmares
- Even after six to eight hours of sleep, you wake up feeling exhausted
How Do You Define High Altitude?
Sleep may be affected at these altitudes:
- High altitude: 8,000 – 12,000 feet above sea level
- Very high altitude: 12,000 – 18,000 feet above sea level
- Extremely high altitude: above 18,000 feet
Is Sleeping Difficulty A Sign Of Altitude Sickness?
It is likely that you are suffering from altitude sickness if you are not suffering from jet lag, have not consumed large meals and have not consumed caffeine.
Sleep deprivation can also lead to other symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headaches. Symptoms of altitude sickness can range from mild to severe, so keep an eye out for these:
A mild case of altitude sickness
- You may experience headaches, difficulty sleeping, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, sleep problems, and a general lack of energy.
- Within 12 to 24 hours of arriving at a high altitude, symptoms usually begin to appear.
- Mild forms of altitude sickness usually subside within a day or two as you get used to the altitude, so it’s doubly important to acclimatize before climbing and assess your personal body condition.
A moderate case of altitude sickness
- These symptoms are more intense and cannot be treated with over-the-counter medicines.
- Shortness of breath, fatigue, and weakness worsen rather than improve over time.
- Symptoms include confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty walking, a worsening headache that is not relieved by medication, nausea, vomiting, and tightness in the chest. Although you might still be able to walk on your own (you may be staggering), normal activities are difficult.
Having a severe case of altitude sickness
- There may also be confusion and fluid buildup in the lungs or brain, fatigue, and shortness of breath at rest.
- A grey, pale, or blue tone on the skin, lips, or fingernails. Noisy breathing (a gurgling or rattling noise).
- You must be brought to a lower altitude as soon as possible if you suffer from severe altitude sickness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
How can I sleep better at higher altitude?
The severity of hypoxia at high altitude is greatest during sleep. In high altitude, acetazolamide can alleviate AMS symptoms, improve sleep, and prevent hypoxemia. Sleep may be improved at high altitude by taking low doses of a short acting benzodiazepine (temazepam).
What is the best way to adjust to high altitude?
The best ways to get adjusted with high altitude in the following ways:
Be sure to drink plenty of water.
Make Sure You Sleep Enough.
Don’t drink too much alcohol.
Raise the Potassium Levels.
Save Yourself From Sun.
Why do climb high and sleep low?
All mountaineers follow the same maxim: “Climb high, sleep low” this is because the idea of this maxim is to expose the body gradually to higher and higher altitudes, forcing it to adjust, and then returning back down to sleep and recuperate at an altitude that the body is already used to.
What is the essential gear for ice climbing?
To know about the gear which is essential for ice climbing, you need to check out this article!