Start 2008 off with better sleeping habits, says Healthy Living columnist Dr. Anthony Alessi.
Now that the new year has arrived, there is an overwhelming amount of advice on how to improve health. The standard formula for reducing heart disease, stroke and other chronic illnesses always includes eating a better diet, exercising regularly, cessation of smoking and scheduling an annual physical.
One area of medicine often overlooked is the need for sufficient sleep. Life has become an endless stream of commitments, both social and occupational. Many people now work more than one job in addition to being available for family obligations. Often these activities come at the cost of sufficient sleep.
The issue of what constitutes adequate sleep is variable and depends on each individual’s age and health status. “Basal sleep” describes the amount of sleep the human body needs on a regular basis to perform optimally. “Sleep debt” is sleep lost due to variations in the sleep schedule. It is believed that the average, healthy adult requires between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. When this amount is not reached, sleep debt accumulates until an opportunity occurs to make up those hours and get back on a schedule.
Sleep requirements change at different stages of life. Infants and young children require much more sleep than the average adult. Teenagers typically have a sleep schedule that runs contrary to most daily routines. Teens may not become sleepy until late at night and then need to sleep later in the morning. Sleep deprivation often causes teens to perform poorly during early morning classes. College schedules offer more flexibility with late morning and evening courses. The elderly also have increased basal sleep demands and it is often difficult for them to initiate or maintain sleep. This is overcome by napping during the day.
Chronically, inadequate sleep results in serious health problems including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression. Sleep deprivation is also associated with an increase in serious motor vehicle accidents.
Adequate sleep recommendations include:
Establish consistent sleep patterns, even on weekends.
Create a sleep environment that is dark, quiet, and comfortable.
Do not eat or exercise for two hours prior to going to bed.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before attempting sleep.
Consultation with your physician or a sleep medicine specialist may be necessary.
Unfortunately, society associates people who sleep or nap a lot with being lazy, while those who sleep very little are considered hard working. Sleep medicine has now determined these thoughts to be incorrect.
It is believed that the best way to start a diet and exercise program is by “shocking” your body. What better way to shock your system this New Year than by sleeping more.
Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital with a private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Alessi and all of the Healthy Living columnists at firstname.lastname@example.org