Submitted by Todd Gray, DDS, D.ASBA, Koala Center for Sleep Disorders
Sometimes, the pace of modern life barely gives you time to stop and rest. It can make getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis seem like a dream. But sleep is as important for good health as diet and exercise. Good sleep improves your brain performance, mood, and health. Not getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis also raises the risk of many serious diseases and disorders. These range from heart disease and stroke to obesity and dementia.
There’s more to good sleep than just the hours spent in bed. Healthy sleep encompasses three major things. One is how much sleep you get. Another is sleep quality—that you get uninterrupted and refreshing sleep. The last is a consistent sleep schedule.
People who work the night shift or irregular schedules may find getting quality sleep extra challenging. And times of extra stress can disrupt our normal sleep routines. But there are many things you can do to improve your sleep.
Sleep for Repair
Why do we need to sleep? People often think that sleep is just “down time,” when a tired brain gets to rest, says Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, who studies sleep at the University of Rochester. “But that’s wrong,” she says. While you sleep, your brain is working. For example, sleep helps prepare your brain to learn, remember, and create.
Nedergaard and her colleagues discovered that the brain has a drainage system that removes toxins during sleep. “When we sleep, the brain totally changes function,” she explains. “It becomes almost like a kidney, removing waste from the system.”
Everything from blood vessels to the immune system uses sleep as a time for repair. There are certain repair processes that occur in the body mostly, or most effectively, during sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, those processes are going to be disturbed.
Sleep Myths and Truths
There are many misunderstandings about sleep. One is that adults need less sleep as they get older. This isn’t true. Most adults need at least seven hours or more of sleep each night. Older adults still need the same amount, but sleep quality can get worse as you age. School-age children should get at least nine hours of sleep a night and teens between eight and 10.
Another sleep myth is that you can “catch up” on your days off. Researchers are finding that this largely isn’t the case. If you have one bad night’s sleep and take a nap, or sleep longer the next night, that can benefit you. But if you have a week’s worth of getting too little sleep, the weekend isn’t sufficient for you to catch up. That’s not a healthy behavior.
A recent study looked at people with consistently deficient sleep. They compared them to sleep-deprived people who got to sleep in on the weekend. Both groups of people gained weight with lack of sleep. Their bodies’ ability to control blood sugar levels also got worse. The weekend catch-up sleep didn’t help.
On the flip side, more sleep isn’t always better. For adults, if you’re sleeping more than nine hours a night and you still don’t feel refreshed, there may be some underlying medical issue such as sleep apnea.
Some people have conditions that prevent them from getting enough quality sleep, no matter how hard they try. The most common sleep disorder is insomnia. Insomnia is when you have repeated difficulty getting to sleep and/or staying asleep, despite having the time to sleep and a proper sleep environment.
Sleep apnea is another common sleep disorder. In sleep apnea, the upper airway becomes blocked during sleep. This reduces or stops airflow, which wakes people up during the night. If untreated, sleep apnea may lead to other serious health problems. The tricky thing about sleep apnea is that you often have no idea that you have it—because you are asleep!
Treatment options for Sleep Apnea include lifestyle changes, surgery, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), and oral appliance therapy. While CPAP is one of the most common treatments, oral appliance therapy has proven to be an effective, scientifically-based treatment alternative that patients may find more comfortable and easier to use. The purpose of the appliance is to hold the jaw in a position that allows the airway to remain as open and firm as possible during sleep.
If you regularly have problems sleeping, or feel tired despite getting enough hours of sleep, talk with your health care provider and ask for a sleep study. Sleep is too important to ignore.
Getting a Better Night’s Sleep
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
- Get some exercise every day. But not close to bedtime.
- Go outside. Try to get natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes every day.
- Avoid nicotine and caffeine. Both are stimulants that keep you awake.
- Don’t take naps after mid-afternoon. And keep them short.
- Avoid alcohol and large meals before bedtime.
- Limit electronics before bed.
- Create a good sleeping environment. Keep the temperature cool. Get rid of sound and light distractions. Make it dark. Silence your cell phone.
- Ask your health care provider for a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea
- Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy again.
If you or a family member are concerned that you might have a sleep disorder such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea, consider visiting Dr. Gray at the Koala Center for Sleep & TMJ Disorders in Bloomington. Their office is located at 2309 E. Empire. Contact them at 309-319-6568 or online at www.bloomingtonsleep.com. Dr. Gray is highly trained to manage OSA with Oral Appliance Therapy.