Doctor’s Tip: The importance of adequate sleep
Last week I discussed one of the common causes of poor sleep: obstructive sleep apnea. However, there are many other reasons that a large percentage of Americans don’t get enough sleep.
Studies show that for optimal mental and physical health, adults should get seven to eight hours of good sleep and children, including teenagers, about 10 hours. Too many of us are not achieving this, and here are some of the reasons:
1. Many people work too hard and therefore stay up too late and/or get up too early.
2. We get stimulated in the evening by computer and TV screens and other sources of bright light.
3. Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine interfere with sleep.
4. People with depression or anxiety often have difficulty falling asleep or have early-morning awakening.
5. Older men with prostate trouble often have to get up at night to urinate several times (some women, too).
Inadequate sleep can lead to poor job or school performance, auto accidents, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease (e.g. people who get six or fewer or nine or more hours of sleep a night have a significantly increased stroke risk), diabetes (from increased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol), irritability and depression.
Here are some tips for good sleep hygiene:
1. Your bedroom should be used only for sleep and sex, and should be quiet, cool and completely dark.
2. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and at about the same time every night, and plan on sleeping at least seven hours.
3. Don’t eat within at least three hours of bedtime.
4. Avoid caffeine of any kind after noon.
5. Get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily such as brisk walking, but try not to do it late in the day (exercise stimulates people).
6. Alcohol helps people fall asleep, but within a few hours the “rebound effect” awakens them, so avoid it within three hours of bedtime, and stick to the recommended amount (one drink a day for women, two for men, a drink equals 4 ounces of wine or 12 of beer, or one ounce of hard alcohol).
7. Do not use a computer or watch TV and avoid all other bright lights for one hour prior to bedtime. This helps stimulate melatonin and gets your brain ready for sleep (read a book in dim light). Don’t go in your bathroom right before bed and turn on bright lights to brush your teeth, because that just stimulates you again. Get a dimmer on your light switch.
8. If you just can’t sleep, don’t lie there watching the clock; get up and read in dim light for a while.
9. If you have depression or anxiety, discuss treatment with a professional.
10. If you are getting up at night to urinate, avoid all fluids after your evening meal. If the problem doesn’t resolve, talk to your personal care provider or a urologist about treatment options.
11. Consider a meditation class.
Sleeping medications can be helpful for some people, but must be used with care.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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