Of sleeping habits and health

There are also those who don’t dedicate much time to getting some sleep due to other commitments, be they business or academic.

Then there are those who simply can’t fall asleep for long despite trying hard to do so.

So just what is a good night’s sleep, why do some people struggle to get some decent sleep and what can one do to ensure that one gets a sound sleep?

Above all, just how important is a decent sleep in relation to health?

New studies are discovering just how vital sleep is to overall health. So, sleep habits should become a standard part of a complete check-up, researchers say.

A professor of neurology at a school of medicine in the United States, Phyllis C. Zee, was among the researchers who carried out studies on sleeping habits.

He said they found out that there is increasing evidence that there is a very strong relationship between sleep quality and physical and mental health.

“If you have poor health, that is associated with poor sleep. Also, if you have poor sleep, there is an association between that and poor health,” he told Archives of Internal Medicine magazine.

In one study, researchers looked at why people had trouble sleeping and how many were using alternative drugs to help them sleep.

Insomnia (or chronic sleeplessness) and troubled sleep are most often associated with high blood pressure, heart failure, anxiety and depression, according to a survey.

A physician seeing a patient for insomnia should ask if the patient is using any alternative and complementary treatments, because they might upset the treatments the health-care provider wants to apply, the researchers say.

Another study found that people who have sleep-related breathing disorder – marked by frequent pauses in breathing, laboured breathing, or reduced breathing during the night – were two to 2,6 times more likely to develop depression.

Moreover, the odds of depression increased as breathing disorders became more severe, according to researchers.

Experts agree that sleep problems should not be ignored.

“If you think insomnia is an annoyance and merely something you should tough out, that may be a mistake. It may lead you down the path to other morbidities. It would also be a mistake because it’s treatable,” said one researcher.

Other studies found that:

(1) Fewer hours of sleep may contribute to poor health in young adults.

(2) Those in rural areas who sleep fewer hours appear to weigh more.

(3) The immune system may play a role in narcolepsy, a disorder characterised by an uncontrollable urge to sleep.

(4) The immune system may be affected by a lack of sleep that contributes to inflammation and a variety of diseases.

Fluctuations in hormones mean women are more prone to missing out on a good night’s sleep than men are.

In fact, studies show that women are up to 50 percent more likely to suffer from insomnia than their male peers.

However, simple changes in daily and nightly habits may help improve a woman’s sleep, according to experts.

Some suggestions to fight sleeplessness are:

(1) Limit caffeine consumption. Along with coffee, tea and sodas, caffeine is found in chocolate and in medications used to treat headaches, colds and sinus congestion.

(2) Avoid nicotine, which impairs the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

(3) Don’t drink before bedtime. Having just one or two alcoholic drinks within a few hours of going to bed can disrupt sleep and lead to more frequent awakening in the latter half of the night.

(4) Get active. Lack of physical activity during the day is associated with increased sleep problems. But don’t exercise too close to bedtime because that can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

(5) Eating too much close to bedtime can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

(6) Be careful with daytime naps, which can make it harder to fall asleep at night. If you do need a nap during the day, keep it under 30 minutes.

If self-treatment strategies to improve sleep don’t help, talk to your doctor. Sleep difficulties can be related to a number of medical conditions.

November 2006
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