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How to Get a "Good-Night" Sleep

Aug 17, 2007
Sleep is something we tend to take for granted, but lack of good sleep is becoming a wide-spread problem in the United States. According to a recent poll by the National Science Foundation, only 50 percent of Americans get a "good night" sleep a few nights each week. So what is the big deal about that?

Side effects of poor sleep

Insufficient sleep or a lack of good sleep can degrade your health and affect your ability to function throughout the day. If untreated, sleep problems may lead to the following health issues:

(1) Decreased immune response
A study at Washington State University found that adequate sleep was a key factor in fighting illness. If you are not getting sufficient sleep and you become ill, you may suffer from more serious symptoms and have difficulty recovering.

(2) Reduced memory
According to researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium, a "good night" sleep helps the brain consolidate memories so that theyare readily available during waking hours.

(3) Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine have found that even one night of disrupted or missed sleep in a healthy person can drastically alter chemical balance of the body. This may cause reduced productivity and an increased risk of accidents.

Sleep disorders

Everyone has trouble falling asleep or getting a "good night" sleep at some point in their lives. However, if it is an ongoing problem, you may have a sleep disorder. Common problems include:

(1) Insomnia - Stress, jet lag, diet, or other factors can result in short-term insomnia. Good sleeping habits can cure or prevent mild insomnia. If it continues, however, you may need help. Insomnia can be a symptom of an underlying medical issue, so consult your physician.

(2) Restless Legs Syndrome - This disorder most commonly affects older people. It causes unpleasant crawling, prickling, or tingling sensations in the legs and feet, producing the urge to move them to get relief. As a result, you may experience constant leg movement during the day and insomnia at night. This syndrome can often be relieved with medication.

(3) Narcolepsy - People with narcolepsy have frequent "sleep attacks" during the day even when they get plenty of sleep at night. A sleep attack can last anywhere from several seconds to half an hour or more. Narcoleptics may also experience other symptoms as well, but fortunately there are ways to treat it.

(4) Sleep apnea - Obstructive sleep apnea may seem to be just severe snoring, but it is actually a potentially dangerous blockage of the airway that repeatedly stops you from breathing at night. Apnea sufferers may experience as many as 30 episodes of halted breathing per hour.

Each episode of apnea cuts off your oxygen supply for as long as a minute or more. If untreated, it can cause high blood pressure, heartbeat irregularities, impotency, memory problems, learning difficulties, and depression. It can also cause you to fall asleep at work or, even worse, while driving. It is even been linked to heart attack, stroke, and sudden infant death syndrome.

In the U.S., sleep apnea occurs in approximately 15 to 25 percent of men and in 5 to 9 percent of women. Virtually everyone with sleep apnea snores, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, consult your physician. It can be treated. In some cases, we may be able to design an oral appliance that keeps your throat and airway open while you sleep.

Tips for getting a "good night" sleep

If you have or suspect you may have a sleep disorder, consult your physician for advice. Sometimes sleeplessness is a sign of an underlying condition.
If you do not have a sleep disorder, try the following tips to get a "good night" sleep:

(1) Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
(2) Get enough sleep. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.
(3) Avoid taking naps during the day.
(4) Abstain from or limit caffeine in your diet.
(5) Avoid drinking alcohol in the evenings and do not use it to help you sleep.
(6) Eat your last heavy meal at least 5 hours before bedtime.
(7) Avoid vigorous physical or mental exercise at least 5 hours before bedtime; we all need a "wind down" time at the end of our day.
(8) Avoid using your bedroom for work, business, television, or exercise.
(9) Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and comfortable.
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