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Weekend Doctor: Sleep and health

By Daniel Sak, DO, SAK Sleep Wellness Center

For people of all ages, the everyday stress of life often leads to the sacrifice of one of the most important aspects of human health: sleep. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, but on average, many adults receive seven hours or less. The number is even worse for college students, with six hours being the average amount of sleep that students are getting on a good night.

There are many factors that influence how much sleep we do or do not get, but studies suggest that people today are receiving less sleep than ever before. This is due to a multitude of things including work schedules, commuting distances, family responsibilities, anxiety and stress, heart problems, hypertension, addictions and inconsistent personal routines. The increased usage of lighting and bright screens from TVs, computers and cell phones is also disruptive to our natural Circadian Rhythm, which, in a perfect world allows us to be sleepiest when the sun goes down and most awake when the sun rises. Obviously, that isn’t the case for many people, but understanding the importance of sleep is the first step to getting more of it.

Not only does sleep help you feel more awake during the day, it is also important for helping your body fend off illness and fight infections. People who are sleep-deprived may become sick more often than those with enough sleep. Sleep also helps you think clearly, have a strong memory and maintain a high energy level throughout the day. On the other hand, sleep deprivation has been shown to contribute to weight gain, irritability, lowered academic performance, bad communication and depression.

A regular sleep/wake schedule, good sleep behaviors and restorative sleep is often easier said than done. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to help ensure that you get a better night’s sleep. Make your bedroom a place solely dedicated to sleep and relaxation. A dark and cool room that is free from the distractions of work and entertainment will allow you to relax and sleep easier. Also, by avoiding nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, exercise and food two to three hours before bedtime will likely contribute to a better night. Try to limit naps to 20-30 minutes and follow a regular sleep schedule to allow your body to adjust to a regular sleep cycle.

Even with these tips, many will find that sleeping is still difficult. Primary insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy are all relatively common sleep disorders that occur with people of all ages. If you find yourself constantly waking up during the night, drowsy during the day or unable to fall asleep on a regular basis, you should consult your doctor for clinical help. If clinically indicated, a sleep study may help determine why you are struggling with sleep and can help effectively direct treatment options of many sleep disorders. Some studies occur in a sleep center that tries to duplicate a home-like environment and on occasion with the correct patient and clinical presentation; a sleep study can be done in the patient’s own home. Take control of your sleep today and enjoy your days…awake.