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COM ı APRIL 2014
HEALTHMATTERS By Linda Hepler, BSN, RN
You’ll get fewer infections, said
Aparajitha Verma, MD, Director of
the Comprehensive Sleep Disorders
Program at Houston Methodist Hospital
and Assistant Professor at Weill Cornell
Medical College. “Sleep helps with tissue
repair and strengthens our immune
defenses,” she explained. “If you’re
sleep deprived, your immune system
doesn’t function at optimum level.”
Your sports performance will
improve, said Cralle. Studies
from Stanford Sleep Disorders
Clinic and Research Laboratory at
Standford University, she explained,
have looked at the effect of sleep on
athletic performance in a variety of
sports, including swimming, football,
basketball and golf. What was found?
Most of us are aware that a nutritious diet and regular physical activity are
the cornerstones of a healthy life. But a third part of a wellness lifestyle that is often
overlooked – or downright ignored – is sleep. A recent National Sleep Foundation
survey found that a full 30 percent of Americans are sleeping less than 6 hours
nightly, rather than the 7 to 9 hours most experts say we need – an average that
has declined steadily in direct correlation with our transformation to a 24-hour
society. “Our culture contributes to our epidemic of sleeplessness,” said Terry Cralle,
RN, MS, certiﬁed clinical sleep educator in Washington, D.C. “Perhaps we have
misunderstood the physiological need for sleep as laziness. We have viewed it as
a luxury and not a necessity. We brag about getting by on little sleep – or at least
trying to,” she added.
While there are many theories regarding the function of sleep, there is no deﬁnitive
answer as to what exact purpose it serves. Experts agree, though, that sleep is
necessary to life and that it beneﬁts many body systems. Here are just a few reasons
you should aim for getting enough zzz's:
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Sleep experts agree that there are certain tips that will enhance the likelihood
of getting better quantity and quality of sleep at night. If you’ve tried all of these
and are still having trouble sleeping for more than a few weeks, you may want
to consult with a sleep specialist.
Establish a bedtime routine. “We all know the beneﬁt of a bedtime
routine for children,” said Terry Cralle, RN, MS, certiﬁed clinical sleep educator
in Washington, D.C. “Adults need them, too. It’s important to relax and unwind
prior to bedtime. Pre-sleep rituals, or bedtime routines, are very helpful to
transition from wake to sleep.” Good bedtime routines may be a warm bath, a
light snack or an interesting book. Avoid reading materials for school or your job,
as they may be too stimulating. And turn off the electronics – including, phone,
TV and computer – at least two hours before bedtime, so your brain can shut
Keep your sleep cycle consistent throughout the week,
including during the weekend, recommended Robert Rosenberg, DO,
board-certiﬁed sleep medicine specialist of Arizona. Going to bed at the same
time each night – and waking up at the same time – regulates your body’s clock
and may help you get to sleep and stay asleep.
Nix the naps if you’re prone to insomnia, advises the National
Sleep Foundation. While a power nap may help you to get through the day, it
may also interfere with your ability to sleep at night.
Use light to your advantage, said Dr. Rosenberg. Your body produces
the hormone melatonin, a process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle by
increasing production in the darkness to make you sleepy, and decreasing it in
bright light to keep you awake. By keeping your bedroom dark in the evening
before sleeping and exposing yourself to bright light in the morning, your
melatonin production will be conducive to a good sleep-wake pattern.
Cut out caffeine and nicotine, advised Dr. Rosenberg, especially after
7 p.m. These substances act as stimulants and can keep you awake. Sleep
experts also suggest avoiding alcohol late in the evening (at least 2 hours before
bedtime), too. While alcohol is sedating and may help you fall asleep, it can
interfere with deep sleep stages, resulting in poor quality sleep.
“Extra sleep over an extended period
of time improves alertness and athletic
performance,” she said.
Your heart will be healthier.
Research shows that lack of
sleep can elevate blood pressure
and increase concentrations of
C-reactive protein, a marker of heart
disease risk. “There’s lots of data that
sleep deprivation can contribute to
cardiovascular disease, such as heart
attacks and strokes,” said Dr. Verma.
You’ll be less likely to gain
weight, said Robert Rosenberg,
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specialist of Arizona. “The building
of sleep debt, less than 6 hours a
night, over a matter of days, produces
excessive amounts of the appetite
stimulating hormone Ghrelin and
decreased amounts of the appetite
suppressing hormone Leptin,” he said.
“Is it any wonder that while sleep
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since 1980, the incidence of obesity
has doubled during this same period of
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WHAT ABOUT SLEEP AIDS?
You’ve tried everything and you just can’t get to
sleep. Should you use prescription sleep aids? Not
necessarily, said Aparajitha Verma, MD, Director of the
Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Program at Houston
Methodist Hospital and Assistant Professor at Weill
Cornell Medical College. “An acute episode of insomnia
begins to take on its own life,” she explained. “And a
sleep aid may do the trick for a few weeks, but then it
fails to help anymore.”
While everyone has a bad night now and then, and
in those cases a sleep aid might be used for a day or
two, it’s better to treat the underlying cause of the sleep
problem, said Dr. Verma. “The longer insomnia persists,
the more likely I am to think that there is underlying stress,
anxiety or depression that needs to be treated. Using a
Band-Aid approach in this situation is never good.”
You may get fewer headaches, according to the
American Headache Society. Those who have sleep
problems such as insomnia, including difhculty falling
asleep or staying asleep, or poor quality “non-restful” sleep,
report increased frequency and severity of headaches. And
sleep deprivation can even trigger migraines in those who
suffer from this condition.
Your memory may be sharper, said Dr. Verma.
Sleep, especially the deepest levels of sleep, she
explained, appears to help with memory consolidation,
which is the process of making memories accessible by
creating a sort of a map or an index to the brain, so memory
retrieval is possible when needed.
You’ll be nicer. You can probably remember a time
when a bad night’s sleep resulted in a short temper
or feelings of being overwhelmed. Research such as a
recent University of Pennsylvania study has shown that even
one night of poor sleep (about 4.5 hours total) left subjects
feeling stressed, angry, sad or mentally exhausted. Once
sufhcient sleep was resumed, said the researchers, subjects
showed dramatic improvement in mood.
You’re less likely to suffer an accident or injury.
According to the National Highway Trafhc Safety
Administration, sleep loss and poor quality sleep can
slow reaction time as much as driving drunk, and fatigue
contributes to as many as 100,000 automobile accidents
each year, particularly in those ages 25 and younger.
Drowsiness is also a contributing factor in job-related
accidents and injuries.
You’ll be more focused. Having trouble
concentrating at work or school after a poor night’s
sleep? Sleep deprivation often leaves us feeling
unfocused, said Cralle. “It seems that several important
housekeeping functions take place during sleep, such as
hushing out mental debris that has accumulated during the
course of the day,” she explained.
<RXU VH[ OLIH ZLOO EHQH¿W If you’ve lost that
loving feeling, it may be because the hormone
testosterone, an important part of libido in
both men and women, decreases with sleep deprivation.
According to researchers at the University of Chicago, those
who sleep for less than hve hours nightly for a period of
time of a week or longer, have lower testosterone levels
than those who get sufhcient sleep. MS&F
ÆTurn to page 18 for more on sleep.