Health & Fitness

April 2, 2013

Doc Talk: Make changes now to improve sleep quality

Sleep often becomes the first casualty of a busy lifestyle. We trade sleep time for work or playtime.

Sleep often becomes the first casualty of a busy lifestyle. We trade sleep time for work or playtime.

In a 24/7 world in which productivity is king, the consequences of sleep deprivation can be far-reaching.

A truly restful, battery-charging slumber requires seven to nine hours of sleep. However, the average American is only sleeping six and one-half hours per night. Much like credit card debt, sleep deprivation accumulates and becomes increasingly problematic. In the short term, sleep deprivation causes decreased cognitive function, memory problems, an increase in automobile accidents and poor quality of life. In the long term, chronic sleep loss can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, depression, mental impairment and stroke.

Fortunately, you can make changes right now that may improve your quality of sleep tonight. First, cutting off the caffeine four to six hours before bedtime can help you fall asleep easier. Stress and alcohol wreak havoc on sleep. Try to allow for “de-stress” time before going to bed, minus the nightcap. Keep your bedroom comfortable, dark and quiet and avoid napping during the day. Try not to go to bed hungry, but avoid overeating. An over-full belly can keep you up. Some foods can help, though. Milk contains tryptophan, a sleep-promoting substance. Other foods that may help promote sleep include tuna, halibut, pumpkin, artichokes, avocados, almonds, eggs, bok choy, peaches, walnuts, apricots, oats, asparagus, potatoes, buckwheat and bananas.

In many cases, sleep deprivation is merely a symptom of a sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep due to blocked airways. The most noticeable sign is snoring. Anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea, although it most commonly affects middle-aged and older adults and those who are overweight. Other symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, observed episodes of breathing cessation, abrupt awakenings, dry mouth, morning headache, insomnia and difficult-to-control high blood pressure.

If you are experiencing chronic sleep deprivation, it’s time to consult a physician. Often times, simply paying more attention to sleep hygiene and habits and making a conscious effort to sleep more can resolve many of the issues. But in many cases, a physician needs to address the issues. Approximately 33 percent of your life will be spent snoozing. Make sure it’s time well-spent by checking your sleep habits and discussing your sleep patterns and concerns with your doctor.

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