Posted on May 09, 2017
May is Better Sleep Month
How’s Your “Sleep Hygiene?”
Sleep deprivation has become so prevalent the CDC calls it a public health epidemic.
Do you need that extra cup of coffee to get going in the morning? Are you longing for a nap after lunch? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Americans are in the middle of a sleep loss epidemic. Nearly eight in 10 Americans say they would feel better and more prepared for the day if they had just one more hour of sleep. Any doctor will tell you: Getting sufficient sleep is not a luxury—it’s a necessity—and should be thought of as a “vital sign” of good health.
Risks of Poor Sleep Habits
Are you aware that insufficient sleep has been linked to the development of a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression? Chronic diseases are playing an increasingly common role in premature death and illness so interest in the role of sleep and overall health has grown dramatically.
Below is information from the CDC website explaining the connections between poor sleep and the four top chronic illnesses.
Research has found that insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk for the development of Type 2 diabetes. Specifically, sleep duration and quality have emerged as predictors of levels of Hemoglobin A1c, an important marker of blood sugar control. Optimizing sleep duration and quality may be important means of improving blood sugar control in those with Type 2 diabetes.
Those with sleep apnea appear to be at increased risk for several cardiovascular diseases. Most notably, hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, and irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmias) have been found to be more common among those with disordered sleep than their peers without sleep abnormalities. Sleep apnea and hardening of the arteries appear to share common physiological characteristics, further suggesting that sleep apnea may be an important predictor of cardiovascular disease.
Laboratory research has found that short sleep duration results in metabolic changes that may be linked to obesity. Epidemiologic studies conducted have also revealed an association between short sleep duration and excess body weight. This association has been reported in all age groups, but has been particularly pronounced in children. It is believed that sleep in childhood and adolescence is particularly important for brain development and that insufficient sleep in youngsters may adversely affect the function of a region of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite and the expenditure of energy.
The relationship between sleep and depression is complex. While sleep disturbance has long been held to be an important symptom of depression, recent research has indicated that depressive symptoms may decrease once sleep apnea has been effectively treated and sufficient sleep restored. The interrelatedness of sleep and depression suggests it is important that the sleep sufficiency of persons with depression be assessed and that symptoms of depression be monitored among those with a sleep disorder.
Learn to Practice “Sleep Hygiene”
Good sleep is more under your control than you might think. Following healthy sleep habits can mean the difference between a restlessness night and restful slumber. Researchers have identified a variety of practices and habits—known as “sleep hygiene”—that can help maximize the hours they spend sleeping, even those whose sleep is affected by insomnia, jet lag, or shift work.
Sleep hygiene may sound unimaginative, but it just may be the best way to get the sleep you need. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School offers simple tips to make the sleep of your dreams a nightly reality:
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep
Caffeinated products decrease a person’s quality of sleep. As any coffee lover knows, caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. Avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.
Alcohol may help bring on sleep, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, increasing the number of awakenings and generally decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. It is therefore best to limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day, or less, and to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime.
Turn Your Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment
A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. Why do you think bats congregate in caves for their daytime sleep? To achieve such an environment, lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a “white noise” appliance. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up. Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated. And make sure your bedroom is equipped with a comfortable mattress and pillows. (Remember that most mattresses wear out after 10 years.)
If a pet regularly wakes you during the night, consider keeping it out of your bedroom. Also, banning computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine
Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, watch television, or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities such as doing work or discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.
Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired
Struggling to fall sleep just leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep.
Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher
Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you.
And, if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep within 20 minutes, get up and engage in a quiet, restful activity. Keep the lights dim since bright light can stimulate your internal clock. When your eyelids are drooping and you’re ready to sleep, return to bed.
Use Light to Your Advantage
Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day.
Keep Your Internal Clock Set with a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your clock, and even if you did not sleep well the night before, the extra sleep will help you consolidate sleep the following night.
Nap Early—Or Not at All
Many people make naps a regular part of their day. However, for those who find falling asleep or staying asleep through the night problematic, afternoon napping may be one of the culprits. This is because late-day naps decrease sleep drive. If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5:00 p.m.
Lighten Up on Evening Meals
Eating a pepperoni pizza at 10:00 p.m. may be a recipe for insomnia. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion. If you get hungry at night, snack on foods that (in your experience) won’t disturb your sleep, perhaps dairy foods and carbohydrates.
Balance Fluid Intake
Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty, but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.
Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly—as long as it’s done at the right time. Exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is fine, unless you’re trying to fall asleep. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed or work out earlier in the day.
Implementing these tips can certainly help, but may not solve sleep issues. If you still aren’t feeling rested, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. The most common are: Sleep apnea, when a person stops breathing or doesn’t breathe as deeply while sleeping; insomnia, trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or not getting enough sleep; and parasomnia, when a person sleep walks or experiences night terrors, for example.
Dr. David B. Maybee and the staff at the CCHC Sleep Lab can diagnose and offer solutions to improve your quality of sleep. Often just one night at the hotel-like Sleep Lab can target a specific sleep disorder. The process is painless and easy—check in with your favorite pajamas and pillow, get settled into your private room (which is better than most hotels!), relax while a few electrodes are attached to monitor your brain activity, and settle in for the night. The Sleep Lab staff records your activity throughout the night to assess your sleeping patterns. If a problem is found, Dr. Maybee can provide solutions to guarantee improved sleep and overall improvements to your quality of life.
For more information on sleep issues or to schedule an appointment to discuss any concerns you may have, contact Dr. David B. Maybee and his staff at the CCHC Sleep Lab at 252-634-2240.
(Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Division of Sleep Medicine at
Harvard Medical School; The Better Sleep Council; National Sleep Foundation; Mayo Clinic; and WhatHealth.com.)