Sleeping Beliefs and Truths

4th, Sep-016

Dr. Manoj Bhattarai

Have tossing and turning become a recurring bedtime routine that deprives you of much needed sleep? Or do you keep waking up in the middle of the night and glaring at the ticking clock in angst? Have you been short of sleep and as you stepped into your office, wished you could take a 10 minute nap? Well, you are not alone and all hope is not lost. We all want to sleep better, though it seems elusive at times.

What sleeplessness does to you

Inadequate sleep destabilizes your health and impairs your ability to carry out daily activities. It also translates to tiredness, inability to concentrate, irritability, increased stress and dampened work performance. Fewer than six hours of sleep a night increases appetite, which is 7.5 times more likely to cause obesity. Moreover, short sleepers are 2.5 times more likely to become diabetic compared to those who get adequate sleep.

An awry night can result in compromised immunity, depression, diabetes, heart disease, early dementia and even death. In fact, a week of sleeping only 4-5 hours a night leads to cognitive impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 1 percent. Overall, sleep deprivation leads to decreased quality of life and is a strong predictor of drug abuse, anxiety and depression.

Physiologically, poor sleep can continuously activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing high blood pressure, heart attack and untimely death. Sometimes, lack of sleep may be a precursor of depression.

While we’ve all experienced bouts of sleep deprivation at one point or another in your lives, there’s no point in resigning ourselves to insomnia. Similarly, many of us believe in the notion that people who sleep less are hard workers and in effect, are perpetually productive. Is that the reality? Far from it. Sleep deprivation isn’t a hallmark of hard work and dedication.

All in a good night’s sleep

Sleeping longer is perceived as a sign of weakness in some circles, although emergent studies suggest that high performers actually have healthy sleeping habits. Adequate and good quality sleep releases tension, replenishes the body, refreshes the mind and heightens energy levels, improves memory and reduces negative emotions. It also fortifies our immune system, encourages healthy cell division, boosts metabolism, increases physical energy and improves brain function. Our endocrine system functions better by optimizing insulin secretion when we have a proper night’s sleep.

Sleep efficiency positively impacts a student’s or athlete’s performance. A cheetah makes a great analogy, as it is renowned for running at 60 miles per hour, yet sleeps up to 18 hours a day. International companies such as Ben & Jerry's, The Huffington Post, Zappos, and Nike have realized the relevance of sleep hygiene and its correlation to work performance by introducing nap rooms for their employees to take a snooze. Initially, some employees regarded catching a wink in the workplace with skepticism but over time, embraced the idea.

Understanding the sleep-wake cycle

Melatonin, a natural hormone secreted by pineal gland in our brains, is responsible for inducing sleep and regulating the sleep-wake cycle. As darkness falls, the body secretes melatonin, thereby helping us bed down. Artificial blue light emitted from smartphones, laptops, computers and TV screens suppresses melatonin production and disrupts the natural sleep-wake rhythm. It is best to avoid activities such as writing emails, reading news and watching movies at least 1 hour before going to bed. Similarly placing smartphones and tablets close to your head at night can disrupt sleep quality through constant alerts and the urge to check notifications.

How long should you sleep?

Well, there are no hard and fast rules for the number of hours you should hit the sack. However, the genetic makeup and age have a bearing on sleep. On average, 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep are adequate for adults. Children need more sleep while older people sleep fewer hours and experience less quality sleep.

A few dos and don’ts

Suffice it to say, quality is more important than quantity, otherwise you may wake up feeling tired even after nine or ten hours of sleep. Efficient sleep is when you are ‘really’ sleeping. Sleep is divided into two states: quiet sleep (NREM) and deep active sleep (REM). Both run in alternate cycles, every 90 minutes on average, five to six times a night. REM sleep plays a key role in overcoming difficult or traumatic events. A good way to get adequate REM sleep is to try to limit the snooze button.

Eating fat (long-burning fuel for your mind and body) at dinner improves your sleep quality by providing a stable stream of energy. Eating fish or krill oil at night produces serotonin that promotes feelings of happiness and lowers stress hormones that can interfere with sleep. Eating carbs causes fluctuations in blood sugar, which impairs sleep and makes it harder to nod off. Amino acids like tryptophan in proteins can actually facilitate beneficial sleep, while alcohol can induce sleep but decreases sleep quality by causing fragmentation and early wakefulness. Try and avoid caffeinated products towards the latter half of the day.

A warm water shower, mindful meditation, soothing music, lower room temperature- say 68 degrees Fahrenheit- and completely blacking out the room before going to bed have been shown to optimize the sleep schedule. In the same vein, lavender scents or valerian root oil can boost sleep quality by slowing the heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and lowering skin temperature. Sleeping and waking up regularly at the same time of the day; using the bed only for sleep as opposed to eating, watching television; avoiding daytime naps; and exercising regularly all seem to help. Relaxation and acupuncture therapy can help you sleep better by releasing melatonin and reducing anxiety. If nothing seems to work, then seek medical attention so that you can try alternative formulations available.

All in all, high quality sleep is integral to work performance, health, emotional well being and healthy relationships. Ideally, when you effectively catch your forty winks, you are more likely to live a healthier and happier life.

Dr. Manoj Bhattarai is a practicing nephrologist in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA. He is also a geriatrician._source-health news;

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