Sleep Important For Physical, Mental Health

By on September 26, 2011

As part of the requirements of being board-certified in a specialty, a physician must participate in something called continuing medical education. So I recently went off to a meeting to learn more about lots of subjects and will be presenting some of them to you in the coming weeks.

One of the things that was discussed was sleep and its role in preventive medicine.

Since I was able to stay awake throughout the discussion, I will pass some of the information along to you, as well as a couple other sleep tidbits.

Because of the poor quality or lack of sleep, many people can be classified as sleep-deprived. The National Sleep Foundation reports that more than one half of adults surveyed (58 percent) experienced insomnia at least a few nights per week within the past year.

This can lead to serious consequences. Studies have shown that sleep deprived drivers are more likely to be in collisions and health care workers are more likely to make errors that affect their patients’ health. It has been found that major industrial accidents (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez) have been associated with sleep deprived night shift workers.

A study reported at the American Diabetes Association’s 61st Annual Scientific Sessions revealed that the incidence of insulin resistance, which is associated with diabetes development, was higher in persons who got five or fewer hours of sleep each day.

Sleep disorders and insufficient sleep have been found to be associated with multiple other chronic medical conditions, including obesity, strokes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease. Other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, have also been reported to be associated with high blood pressure and Alzheimer disease.

On average, most adults need seven or eight hours of sleep each night, although the normal range is from five to ten hours. Teenagers need an average of nine hours. Infants need about 16 hours every day.

Sleep disorders increase with age. Therefore, the elderly are much more likely to have sleep problems, including insomnia and a lack of deep sleep. However, studies have shown that a daytime nap of an hour or so improved the abilities of the elderly to think and function, without a significant impact on nighttime sleep. Napping may also help many younger people, if their schedules allow for naps.

It is important to know the kinds of behavior that disrupt sleep. For example, the bedroom should be reserved only for sleeping and sexual activities rather than more general activities such as watching television or reading.

We should maintain a regular sleep schedule if possible, performing relaxing activities before bed. Going to bed only when sleepy and getting out of bed after 15 minutes if unable to sleep (returning to bed later) have been shown to re-establish the psychological connection between the bedroom and sleeping.

Daily exercise is important for sleeping well. But we should exercise about five or six hours before going to bed to avoid the stimulating effect of exercise immediately before trying to sleep. In addition, we should avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol for a similar time period before sleep.

Sedatives and other sleep-inducing medicines can be effective temporarily for patients who do not respond to relaxation techniques and sleep hygiene practices. However, many people will find that if they concentrate on some of the other steps for healthy living, their insomnia will improve.

Source: Terry Gaff, KPC News

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