Getting Enough Sleep Can Help Overall Wellness

By on June 2, 2011

Long day at work. Busy evening after school. Late night on the computer. A venti-double-shot of caffeine in the morning.

Sound familiar?

If so, you and your family likely are among the 100 million-plus Americans who are not getting enough sleep.

“It’s not known why you have to sleep,” said Dr. Dan Walters of Palm Springs. “You function better with it, and we all know if you don’t sleep, you don’t feel well.”

Walters, a pulmonary and sleep medicine specialist, talked about healthy sleep with Deborah Reef as part of The Desert Sun’s Healthy Family Project.

The Palm Springs mother has a full schedule between teaching, overseeing an after-school program and caring for her 9-year-old son, Noah.

Walters said children and teens need about nine hours of sleep daily. Studies have shown adults need between 6

The National Sleep Foundation goes further: It recommends adults sleep for 7 to 9 hours a night to maintain good health.

But more than

Those who don’t sleep enough are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and obesity in the long run.

In the short term, sleep deprivation can lead to poor performance at school and work.

“Frequently the person that’s sleep deprived doesn’t realize that he’s making bad decisions,” Walters said. “It’s more knee-jerk decision-making. Depending on what kind of situation you’re in, that can have bad results.”

A debt you want

Researchers long have studied circadian rhythms and what they call “sleep debt.”

When a person has exhausted their reserves – much like when checking account funds are exhausted – that person needs to replenish.

“You need a certain amount of sleep debt to promote good sleep,” Walters explained.

First thing in the morning, sleep debt is at its lowest. It builds up throughout the day.

But explaining that to teenagers can be a challenge, Walters said. Of his two teenage sons in high school, one resists going to bed at night and ends up taking long afternoon naps as a result.

Naps longer than 30 minutes decrease the sleep debt, making it more difficult to fall asleep later that night. And naps taken after 5 or 6 p.m. can result in shallow sleep, Walters said.

“I’m pretty good about going to bed and getting up at the same time every day,” Reef said, “but what about waking up in the middle of the night? Something triggers, and I’m awake.”

Those whose minds are racing with worries or endless to-do lists should practice writing down a list of what’s bothering them, Walters suggests. Next to each item, write an action that can be taken.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘Call Bob.’”

If you find yourself lying awake for 30 minutes, get up and do something stress-free, Walters added. Otherwise, you are apt to begin stressing about the effects a sleepless night will have on the following day.

For those who suffer from persistent insomnia, Walters said writing down worries isn’t enough. He recommends discussing the problem with a doctor or clinical psychologist.

Good Seep Hygiene

It’s important to practice good “sleep hygiene,” Walters tells his patients. Here’s how to replicate it at home:

Wake up at the same time every day. While it may be tempting to hit the snooze bar a few extra times after staying up late, get up at the same hour as you normally would.

Sleeping in late will upset the circadian rhythm and sleep-debt drive, making it more likely you’ll stay up late a second night in a row.

Pay attention to lighting. Illuminate with bright lights in the morning to wake up and dim lights in the evening to set the mood for sleep.

The blueness of computer screens can be too bright at night. But Walters said there is software available to turn the background to something softer and more soothing.

Better yet, avoid the computer and television. “The trouble with electronics is that they’re stimulating. You want to avoid stimulating things,” Walters said.

This especially is a problem for teenagers. Studies have shown they typically use four different electronic devices in the last hour before sleep, Walters said.

Set a time when everyone needs to “go unplugged” and encourage them to find something more snooze-inducing – like that copy of “Billy Budd” they’re supposed to be reading for English class maybe.

Wrap up exercise and big meals early. Maintaining an exercise routine is a great way to get deep sleep, but the workout should finish two to three hours before bedtime, Walters said.

Also, eating a big meal before bedtime will have your digestive system working the graveyard shift, which can be disruptive.

“If there’s a snack that’s pleasant that you traditionally eat that sort of sets the scene for sleep, that’s OK,” Walters said.

Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can keep one awake into the wee hours.

Alcohol is the most commonly used sleep agent, Walters said, “But when it’s metabolized in the last third of the night it tends to be alerting. So it’s not a good sleep medicine.”

Save sleep and sex for the bedroom. Walters has heard of patients using sleep timers on their television sets or working on laptops with business files strewn about their beds.

“That’s not good. You don’t want (your bedroom) to remind you of the business deal,” he said.

Work at a desk. Eat at a table. Watch television and read a book on the sofa.

“If you’re sleepy, that’s when you go to bed.”

Create some ambiance. After you’ve removed the television from your bedroom, work on setting the scene for sleep. Paint the walls a soothing color, and put a lower- wattage light bulb in the bedside lamp.

Create a sleep routine. Light a candle with a pleasant scent as you brush your teeth, play some quiet music or switch on a machine that produces the sound of a gentle rain, Walters suggests.

When in doubt, do what generations of parents have done with their children: Take a bath or shower in the evening.

The water warms the body, and the body’s natural cooling process causes drowsiness, Walters said.

“Our temperature tends to be lower during the night,” he said. “Like in the cooler weather, it’s always nicer to sleep than the hot summer.”

Source: Monica Torline, MyDesert

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