Sleep Better: Your Life May Depend On It
By Dr. Praveen Rudraraju, Medical Director of the Center for Sleep Medicine, Northern Westchester Hospital
People don’t realize that there are numerous health benefits to good quality sleep, and they rarely understand how dangerous it is if they fail to get it. Some of the risks of poor sleep are obvious: You’ll perform poorly at work, for example. But chronic poor sleepers are at a much higher risk of being in a driving accident.
Car wrecks can be deadly of course, but so can heart disease, stroke, weight gain, and diabetes. Remarkably, your risk of all these conditions rises when you don’t sleep well. A Harvard study has found that sleeping less than five hours a night can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease by 40 percent. A 2007 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that chronic insomnia quadrupled the risk of stroke. Numerous studies have linked poor quality sleep to weight gain. A hormone linked to hunger — ghrelin — increases when people don’t sleep well, encouraging them to eat more throughout the day.
About 80 percent of the patients seeking help at the Center for Sleep Medicine at NWH have a condition called sleep apnea. Characterized by very heavy snoring, sleep apnea actually interrupts a person’s breathing hundreds of times a night. Depriving the brain and heart of oxygen can lead to serious damage over time.
About 15 percent of our patients have insomnia, and it’s usually brought on by stress from work or emotional troubles. We also see a few people with narcolepsy — they are chronically tired throughout the day. After an initial interview, I might choose to monitor the patients for a night of sleep, either at home or at the Sleep Center lab. With a home study, we’ll watch oxygen levels through the night, and we can monitor breathing patterns and air flow. At the Sleep Center, My staff and I can also collect data on brain patterns, which will tell me much more about the quality of sleep. People will say they sleep through the night, but their snoring is so heavy that they never reach a deep, quality level of sleep. As a result, they always feel tired.
There are excellent solutions for all these problems, but we find that people wait too long to seek help. It’s important for your health to find out sooner rather than later why you’re not sleeping well or snoring heavily.
Just like brushing your teeth and washing your hands, practicing good sleep hygiene can help insure a sound night’s sleep. While every person needs to fine tune their sleep environment to suit their particular needs, Dr. Rudraraju has some general tips for increasing the quantity and quality of your ZZZs.
Eat at least three to five hours before bedtime
This gives your body plenty of time to digest. Plan your dinner for 6:00 or 6:30 so that your gut is relaxed when it’s time to turn off the lights.
Nothing too exciting in the evening
Dimming the lights and watching some relaxing television or reading can help your brain wind down from a busy day.
Exercise, but not too close to bedtime
Regular workouts have been linked to better sleep, but you should avoid doing anything too strenuous within four to five hours of hitting the sack.
Turn off the computer
The bright light from the screen and the brain activity required to be on your computer can prevent your body from winding down for the evening and delay sleep.
No alcohol after dinner
Although many people swear by the sleep-inducing qualities of a late-evening drink, they usually wake up within a few hours of nodding off and end up tossing and turning.
Your bedroom is for sleeping and…
No TVs and no reading lamps. Pull the drapes and keep the lights dim, and you’ll find that you’ll sleep much sounder.