A good night's sleep is important for general health, mental well-being

Monday, December 5, 2011
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Many animals hibernate in winter, sleeping through the cold, dreary months. Unfortunately, that's not an option for us two-legged mammals. But getting a good night's sleep is important to maintain general health.

"If you don't get good sleep, your concentration, memory, strength and ability to function are decreased," says Dr. Musa A. Wadi of Southeast Pulmonology and medical director of SoutheasHEALTH's Sleep Center. "You'll not be as functional as someone who has adequate sleep."

Sleep deprivation can affect other health problems, such as decreased immunity, heart disease and high blood pressure. It can also result in excessive daytime sleepiness and morning headaches.

Sleep specialists recommend anywhere from six to 10 hours of sleep a night for general health.

"Everyone's different in amount of sleep they need," says Sandra Sneathen, registered respiratory therapist and sleep specialist at Saint Francis Medical Center's Sleep Disorders Center. "Adolescents and older people need more sleep. And they usually get less because of general health issues."

Wadi agrees, saying the 65 and older age group "have more diseases, more lung and heart disease, more joint disease and pain. They cannot really go to deep sleep."

Wadi and Sneathen suggest having good sleep "hygiene" or a routine, to ensure a restful night.

"Get ready to go to sleep," Wadi says, "and don't mess with computers or TV. Don't put a TV in the bedroom. ... Make the room for sleeping only."

Sneathen recommends going to bed and getting up at the same time every day so the body sets its biological time clock. "And no napping," she says. "If you have to nap, take short ones, less than an hour long. It throws off your body clock."

The environment you sleep in is also important, Sneathen says. "Sleep in a nice dark room, with the temperature between 68 and 75 degrees. If there are noises that bother you, use a white noise machine or fan."

Getting ready for bed starts long before bedtime, especially where food and drink are concerned. "Heavy meals before bedtime is not a good thing," Wadi says. "Avoid caffeinated beverages after 6 p.m. Of course, avoidance of alcohol is very important (because) it can disturb sleep."

Wadi and Sneathen's final recommendation is probably the most difficult: No worrying. "Don't try to solve problems in (your) business," Wadi says. "Stop thinking about things; avoid thinking and worrying about things you have to do tomorrow."

Sneathen admits it can be hard to let your worries slip away, but suggests meditation and relaxation to help.

If you still find it difficult to get a good night's sleep, you may have a sleep disorder.

According to Wadi and Sneathen, insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea are the most common.

"There are lot of undiagnosed sleep apnea patients," Wadi says. "People think they're sleeping and snoring because of aging. That's not true a lot of time."

Sleep apnea, which affects 18 million Americans, is a disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly pause during sleep. Sleep apnea lowers a person's blood oxygen level and results in a fragmented sleep pattern -- making for a potentially dangerous health situation.

Some of the symptoms of the disease, according to Wadi and Sneathen, are excessive snoring, a break in breathing during sleep, persistent sleepiness, getting up frequently at night, a lot of movement in bed and morning headaches. Obesity is also a common factor among sleep apnea patients.

"If we see these symptoms, we should think about (sleep apnea)," Wadi says. "Severe sleep apnea can lead to stroke and heart attacks during sleep. It also has a lot of ramifications with diabetes."

If you think you suffer from sleep apnea or another sleeping disorder, see your doctor. He or she can refer you to a sleep lab where a sleep study will be performed.

The good news is that sleep apnea and other sleeping disorders can be treated. The most common method of treatment for sleep apnea is a C-PAP machine. The machine comes with a breathing mask, meant to be worn over the nose and/or the mouth, that supplies air into the throat, which prevents the airway from collapsing.

Whether you suffer from a sleeping disorder or not, Sneathen says you'll know the difference when you have a good night's sleep. "It'll just make you feel better," she says. "You'll feel like a new person."

ARA Content contributed to this report.

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