To accommodate increasingly busy lives, Americans often sacrifice the hours they once spent sleeping. While most studies recommend seven to nine hours nightly for adults, recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that more than one-third of American adults fail to hit that measure. That can significantly affect a person’s overall health, says Dr. Srinivasan Devanathan, who specializes in sleep medicine at Parkview Physicians Group (PPG).
“The risks are real,” says Dr. Devanathan. “In addition to interfering with daytime functioning, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a variety of health problems.”
In fact, lack of sleep affects every organ in the body. Dr. Aaron Roberts, who also practices sleep medicine at PPG, adds, “It’s linked to almost any medical condition you can think of: increased cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, increased insulin resistance, low testosterone, even hormone changes.”
Certainly, sleep deprivation can arise from medical conditions like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy and insomnia. For most people, however, practicing good “sleep hygiene” will go a long way toward promoting wellness. The first step is recognizing its importance.
“Understanding that you need enough sleep is the first and foremost aspect of forming good sleep habits,” explains Dr. Devanathan. “Most people just don’t allow enough time in bed.”
Accordingly, the PPG physicians recommend establishing a regular sleep routine, even on the weekends.
“The first thing I tell people is to maintain a sleep schedule. It helps regulate our internal clock and regulate an internal hormone called melatonin,” explains Dr. Devanathan.
In addition, people should make their environment conducive to sleep. This means adjusting the temperature and reducing exposure to electronics and television at least one to two hours before bedtime. Avoiding caffeine late in the day and excessive amounts of alcohol before bedtime is equally important, as is eliminating non-sleep activities in bed, especially clock watching.
“The bed should only be used for sleep, sex or sickness,” says Dr. Roberts. “Otherwise the body starts conditioning itself to associate the bed with wakefulness.”
To understand what factors might be affecting a person’s sleep and whether one should seek medical attention, Drs. Devanathan and Roberts recommend several self-assessment tools that can be found online. They suggest the STOP-BANG questionnaire, the Epworth sleepiness scale and sleep logs to gain insight into sleep habits and risk factors.
“Irritability, concentration deficit, not being able to maintain sleep – these simple things might be important markers for people to seek medical attention,” says Dr. Devanathan. “If they don’t get better, ask for help.”
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