Proper shut-eye positively impacts overall health
- Maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep
- Making your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment
- Establishing a calming pre-sleep routine
- Going to sleep when you're truly tired
- Not watching the clock at night
- Using light to your advantage by exposing yourself to light during the day and limiting light exposure in the evening
- Not napping too close to your regular bedtime
- Eating and drinking enough, but not too much or too soon before bedtime
- Exercising regularly, but not too soon before bedtime.
Inadequate sleep can affect everything from mood to medical conditions to life span
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
Not getting a good night’s sleep has more lasting effects than the immediate grogginess a person might feel — sleep habits have been linked to all kinds of medical conditions, including a shorter life span.
Insufficient amounts of shut-eye also are linked to weight gain, diabetes, mood and heart health.
Because sleep impacts overall health, it’s important for anyone with symptoms of a sleep disorder to see a doctor. This can include excessive sleepiness — especially during the daytime — irritability, impatience, poor concentration and recall, falling asleep during the day, snoring, excessive caffeine intake, weight gain, hypertension and diabetes, said Dr. Patricia Dietzgen, Family Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Frisco Medical Offices.
Common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, shift work sleep disorder, narcolepsy and buxism.
“If you are concerned that you are getting adequate number of hours of sleep, but still suffer from fatigue, it is important to discuss this with your doctor so the cause can be identified,” said Dr. Shannon Garton, Family Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Edwards Medical Offices.
The risks of bad sleep
Medical conditions that develop as a result of inadequate sleep aren’t always obvious because many conditions are slow to develop and have multiple other risk factors, Garton said. Studies do show that an overall lack of sleep has been associated with a shorter life span, excess body weight, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation and immune system functioning.
The hormones leptin and ghrelin are both affected by sleep, for example. Leptin tells the brain when the body has enough to eat, so a decrease in the hormone can trigger hunger, Dietzgen said. Ghrelin is an appetite stimulant, which is raised by inadequate sleep, contributing to weight gain, glucose intolerance and ultimately diabetes.
Garton points out that sleep deprivation increases the levels of inflammatory mediators, meaning a increased risk of developing infections and colds.
Inadequate sleep also appears to affect the brain’s ability to consolidate both factual information and procedural memories about how to do various physical tasks, Garton said.
“It is simply more difficult to concentrate when we are sleep deprived; this affects our ability to focus on and gather information presented to us, and our ability to remember even those things we know we have learned in the past,” she said. “The less obvious — but possibly more profound — impact of sleep deprivation on learning is the effect that many sleep researchers think it has on memory consolidation.”
Because of these wide-ranging effects on health, sleep disorders need to be treated.
More than 18 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea, a disorder that causes brief, repeated breathing interruptions during sleep.
Diagnosis is done through an overnight sleep study,” Dietzgen said. “Sleep apnea is especially common here in the mountains due to high altitude.
It is important to have the study done at the altitude in which you live. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type.”
The National Sleep Foundation reports that obstructive sleep apnea can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. The combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to hypertension, heart disease and mood and memory problems. Sleep apnea also increases the risk of drowsy driving, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Insomnia is when a person has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or awakening earlier than desired without being able to fall back to sleep. People with insomnia are more likely to become clinically depressed, suffer from poor concentration and have accidents, according to Harvard Medical School.
Narcolepsy is an uncontrollable need to fall asleep during the daytime. About 1 in 2,000 people are affected by this disorder. Restless leg syndrome, which is a clinical diagnosis, is an irresistible urge to move throughout the night and there are several medications which can be helpful, Dietzgen said.
Shift work is another sleep disorder in which there’s a misalignment between the body’s internal clock and the outside world.
“When this happens, your body’s timekeeper sends you signals that conflict with the activities you’re trying to do. This may cause your body to secrete drowsy-making chemicals when you’re on the job, or alert you to be awake and eat when you’re trying to sleep. The internal clock is somewhat flexible, so it can learn a new schedule and eventually adapt,” Garton said. “If your shift work schedule rotates, or you sleep with a different pattern on your days off, though, it’s like having continual jet lag — the circadian system never gets the chance to fully catch up. Keeping your schedule consistent is one way to help adjust to shift work, but there are also some medical and non-medical treatments.”
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