Better sleep, better health
Groggy mornings, drowsy afternoons, restless nights – problems that are familiar to most of us and may be signs that our sleep habits need an overhaul.
According to the American Sleep Association, our society is in the midst of a serious sleep problem. The ASA estimates as many as 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder. Seventy percent of adults report not sleeping enough at least one night every month, while 11 percent say they have sleep problems every night.
Unfortunately, sleep problems often lead to health problems.
“Poor sleep is associated with many adverse health outcomes,” says John Lace, MD, a Pulmonary Disease Specialist at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital who is also Board Certified in Sleep Medicine. “Among these problems are increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety, as well as decreased libido and reduced resistance to infection. Poor sleep is also linked to an increased risk of accidents.”
In fact, the ASA reports that drowsy driving is responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 non-fatal accidents every year in the US.
Getting good sleep is clearly a challenge for Americans. So, what is to blame for our sleep woes? Dr. Lace says many aspects of day-to-day life actually make good sleep difficult.
“Our society has a lot of inherent disincentives to healthy sleep,” says Dr. Lace. “I am as susceptible as my patients are to engage in poor sleep behaviors. We all need to prioritize sufficient time for sleep. Many people have a TV in the bedroom. The rise in screen time in general, from small screens to large screens, is a significant factor in poor sleep. We fail to get enough healthy sleep, then we ply ourselves with caffeine and energy drinks to keep going.”
Dr. Lace says that for anyone looking to improve their sleep habits, technology usage is a good place to start.
“It is good to have boundaries on screen time, say none after a certain hour,” Dr. Lace explains. “Light from screens, especially toward the blue side of the spectrum, can interfere with our circadian rhythms, which is our day/night sleep cycle. My son recently pointed out that there are settings on my phone that can allow me to set daily time limits on the use of certain apps. After a certain hour, consider switching to old fashioned books and magazines.”
In addition to shutting down electronics before bedtime, Dr. Lace also encourages everyone to establish a consistent sleep schedule. The goal should be to go to bed and wake up at around the same time every day. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and can help you to fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
For those who have trouble shutting off their mind for the night, the National Sleep Foundation recommends a relaxing bedtime ritual. Performing the same activity right before bed (away from bright lights) helps your mind to separate sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety.
Finally, if Daylight Savings Time leaves you feeling sleep deprived twice a year, Dr. Lace says you are not alone.
“Turning the clocks back moves us one time zone west,” explains Dr. Lace. “It’s best to anticipate this by staying up 15 minutes later each evening for a few days prior to the time change. In the spring, when we move the clocks forward, go to bed 15 minutes earlier for each of a few days prior to the time change.”
If your sleep problems persist or are affecting your day-to-day activities, talk to your doctor to help identify the cause of the problem and identify treatment options.
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