Sleep Your Way to Better Health

Posted on: March 4, 2015

Sleep Your Way to Better Health

By Dr. Praveen Rudraraju

If you’re struggling to get enough sleep, don’t take your tossing and turning lightly. Good sleep is a necessity, not an option. We know that most people require around seven to eight hours a night, and it’s vital that you get it.

iStock_41874820_HiRezSleep supports the body and brain in so many ways that science is only beginning to fully understand. We form memories during sleep, and there’s evidence that regular sleep improves memory. Likewise, sleep seems to facilitate learning, whether it’s acquiring a new skill like playing the piano, learning how to tackle new responsibilities at work, or school kids putting to use the rules of geometry or grammar.

Sound sleep also keeps you healthy. Research from the Sleep Heart Health Study indicates that people who get less than five hours of sleep nightly are 2.5 times more likely to have diabetes. That study and several other similar ones have found that averaging less than five hours of shuteye a night raises the risk of heart disease by 45 percent. What’s more, poor sleep increases the likelihood of suffering mood disorders like anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse. High school students in particular seem to be susceptible to behavior problems and mood disturbance when they don’t get enough sleep.

Sound sleep keeps you healthy.

So how do you insure you get enough? There are plenty of ways to improve sleep without resorting to prescription drugs. However, if you routinely battle insomnia, see a doctor about possible solutions. A sleep lab, such as the one at NWH, can be helpful in diagnosing serious sleep conditions such as sleep apnea, which prevents deep sleep and is characterized by heavy snoring. The treatments for sleep disorders have come a long way and are very effective. Most people find that they can begin sleeping much more soundly and suddenly have a lot more energy and concentration during the day once they’ve been diagnosed and get treatment. Plus, they gain all the health benefits a good night’s sleep can bestow.

Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene
Set a regular bedtime. By hitting the sack the same time every evening, you’ll train your body to slow down and have an easier time falling asleep. Even better, establish a small ritual before climbing into the covers, whether it’s a glass of milk (which has tryptophan, an amino acid that encourages sleep), a warm bath, or some gentle relaxation exercises like deep breathing or leisurely yoga stretches.

Try not to nap within eight hours of bedtime—especially if you typically have a hard time drifting off. And limit naps to 25 minutes. Naps can throw off your internal rhythms, making it tougher for your body to slow down at night.

Don’t have alcohol or caffeine within two hours of bedtime. Coffee can keep you up, of course; a drink may help you fall asleep, but when your body starts digesting the alcohol sugars later in the middle of the night, you may find yourself heating up or dreaming intensely, and both can disrupt sleep.

No heavy meals or sugary food right before bed. An active, full belly will have you tossing and turning.

Exercise regularly, but not within two hours of bedtime. Your body takes awhile to slow down and relax into a ready-for-sleep state. However, several studies have linked regular exercise earlier in the day to sounder sleep.

Keep your bedroom dark. Any light can disrupt slumber, so invest in heavy curtains or good blinds.

Shut out noise. If you live in a noisy neighborhood, try wearing ear plugs at night.

Keep it cool. Be sure to turn down the heater at night. The best sleeping temperature is cool—58 to 62 degrees—but not cold.

Check your mattress. About every five to seven years, you’ll need a new one. Not sure how long you’ve had yours? Ask yourself whether you sleep better when you’re away from home. If the answer is yes, it could be your mattress. Pillows don’t last forever, either.

Reserve your bed for sleeping. If you look forward to reading or watching television in bed, you’ll train yourself to be awake when you should be sleeping instead.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Praveen Rudraraju is the Director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital. The Center for Sleep Medicine at NWH has achieved The American Academy of Sleep Medicine 5-year Accreditation.

Learn more about how you can feel better and start improving your sleep today, visit the National Sleep Foundation www.sleep.org.