The Importance of Healthy Sleeping Habits

“Many people do not realize the importance of healthy sleeping habits to their overall wellness,” says Dr. Lenworth Beaver of Healthcare for Women. “Most adults need at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night to maintain good health. In addition, there are several common sleeping disorders that, left untreated, can be even very damaging to a person’s health.”

Along with feeling tired, poor sleeping habits or untreated sleeping disorders can cause high blood pressure, increased stress, weight gain, depression, loss of motor skills, and heart damage. In addition, lack of sleep makes it extremely dangerous to operate motor vehicles or other machinery.

The following four sleep disorders are common in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Insomnia – Symptoms of insomnia include the inability to initiate or maintain sleep, early morning awakening and excessive sleepiness throughout the day. Insomnia can impair a person’s

daily functions, cause mood swings or depression, and affect heart-health and weight gain. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 48 percent of Americans experience insomnia occasionally and 22 percent experience insomnia every night.

Narcolepsy – Narcolepsy is most often characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness combined with sudden muscle weakness. The sudden muscle weakness people with narcolepsy experience often occurs in “attacks” that are triggered by strong emotion or surprise, and can happen at any time, even during physical activity. This is particularly dangerous while driving.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) – The hallmark sign of RLS is an unpleasant feeling in the lower legs, often accompanied by aches and pains. People who experience RLS typically have difficulty falling asleep, and try to relieve their discomfort by walking or kicking their legs.

Sleep Apnea – Excessive snoring periodically interrupted by gasping or snorting noises is a key characteristic of sleep apnea. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to excessive tiredness during the day, high blood pressure, heart attack, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, stroke or depression. “If you are experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders, contact a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment for you,” Dr. Beaver continues. Sleep disorders can often be treated with prescription medications, behavioral interventions or, in the case of sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices. There are over-the- counter medications, as well, but Dr. Beaver recommends consulting with a doctor or pharmacist before taking these.

There are several things people can do to build healthy sleeping habits into their daily routines. The National Sleep Foundation suggests the following tips for sleeping smarter:

• Establish a regular bed and wake time.

• Avoid nicotine altogether and avoid caffeine close to bedtime.

• Avoid alcohol.

• Exercise regularly (but complete the workout at least 3 hours before bedtime).

• Establish a consistent relaxing “wind down” bedtime routine.

• Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet and comfortable.

• Discuss the appropriate way to take any sleep aid with a healthcare professional.

Nap Time

Napping is sometimes recognized as a product of negative lifestyle choices such as lack of sleep and poor nutrition, but napping is an important component to a healthy lifestyle. Here are some perks from getting a little afternoon shut eye.

Naps boost the brain’s leaning capabilities.

Naps are a more effective and healthier way to wake yourself up than alternatives such as caffeine.

Naps lead to creativity.

Naps can boost your memory.

Small naps can have a profound impact on your health. Napping helps to reduce stress, lower risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and excessive weight gain.

The Sleep-Diet Connection

Lose weight while you sleep? In a way — yes.

Getting enough quality sleep helps your metabolism to function properly. If you’re averaging 7.5 hours of sleep a night getting another 30 minutes will not lead to a significant change on the scales. But moving from 5 hours a night to 7 hours will help in your quest for weight loss. Our nightly hormones affect our ability to lose weight. Sleep deprivation can disrupt their function. Two key hormones are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells you when to eat. Lack of sleep leads to an increase in ghrelin. Leptin tells you to stop eating. When you’re not getting enough sleep you have less leptin.

More Ghrelin + Less Leptin = Weight Gain

Simply put, when you do not get enough sleep, you eat more, and your metabolism is slower.

Does Counting Sheep Really Work?

We’ve all done it. Did it help? Probably not.  An Oxford study found that people visioning relaxing scenes fell asleep 20 minutes faster than those counting sheep. The researched deduced that counting sheep was just boring and, in fact, may lead to added anxiety. Next time you have trouble sleeping picture the calming of ocean waves.

Dr. Lenworth Beaver can be contacted at Healthcare for Women at 434.791.2629.

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