Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting a Great Night's Sleep

This is the fourth and final article in a series about the importance of sleep for your health and wellbeing.

Good sleep is one of the most underappreciated contributors to good health, even though the connection between the two is abundantly clear. It goes way beyond whether you'll be sluggish the next day; a poor night's sleep can affect your health in countless ways, from the psychological to the physical. Discuss these helpful hints with your doctor and make sure you get the sleep you need every night. It's that important.

Common Sleep Stoppers

  • Improper planning

  • Uncomfortable beds and sheets

  • Unexpected stress

  • Normal, everyday stress: job stress, money stress, etc.

  • Lack of sex

  • Lack of proper diet

  • Injury

  • Pain

  • Noise

  • Lack of white noise

  • Medication use

  • Improper napping (too long or too close to normal bedtime)

  • How Pain, Stress and Medication Affect Sleep

    When you're in pain, it can be difficult to sleep due to the constant stimulation to your nervous system. Significant numbers of individuals attempt to self-medicate or mix medications in an attempt to achieve sleep, which can have dangerous consequences.

    When we sleep, our body breaks down various chemicals and forms a major sleep chemical known as serotonin. The activity of serotonin can be blocked by high levels of cortisol. Our bodies produce cortisol in direct relationship to the amount of stress we are under. Cortisol works as a very slow adrenaline and its presence will elevate the heart rate and mental alertness at all times of the day and night. Many patients take antidepressants long-term, which can lead to a hypersensitivity to serotonin.

    Some commonly prescribed anti-depressant drugs work by making your nerves more sensitive to serotonin. If prescribed long-term, they can lead to a hypersensitivity to serotonin. This is known as serotonin syndrome, symptoms of which include changes in mental status and a host of other effects on the body and its systems. These symptoms will definitely not help you sleep.

    11 Ways to Get a Great Night's Sleep

  • Limit exercise and other stressful activities immediately before bedtime.

  • Remove all distractions from the bedroom that could keep you from sleeping.

  • Organize your life so you can get to bed at a consistent time each night.

  • Sleep on a regular schedule: 4.5, 6, 7.5 or nine hours is ideal because it marks the completion of a sleep cycle.

  • Buy a pedestal fan to help you sleep deeply; point it at your face (not too close to cause sinus problems).

  • Make sure your bed, mattress and pillow are comfortable enough to sleep through the night.

  • Don't drink liquids so close to bedtime that you need to get up in the middle of the night.

  • If you need to fall asleep to TV, music or with lights on, program a sleep timer so they'll go off at a certain time.

  • Minimize or eliminate medication use for pain/sleep/depression if possible.

  • Use natural supplements (only if needed and with advice from your doctor).

  • If you're experiencing sleep problems, talk to your doctor and keep a sleep journal for a few weeks.

    David Ryan, BS, DC, is a former two-sport professional athlete with more than 20 years in the health care field. This article was published in To Your Health, an MPA Media publication.

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