Importance of sleep: Routine, dark and cool room among tips to improve restfulness and reduce drowsiness

Today, the United States switched into Daylight Saving Time and it’s an opportunity for sleep experts to emphasize how sleep plays as pivotal a role in overall health as eating and exercise.

“Sleep is the most important part of life when it comes to our bodies,” Mehrded Ghaffari, M.D., director of the Sleep Laboratory at UPMC Altoona, and who is a board-certified sleep medicine physician said. “Sleep is when our body adjusts its hormones, its immune system, regulates blood pressure and heart rate. It’s the most important part of the day when it comes to preparing for the next day.”

Too many people fail to make sleep a priority and undervalue its contribution to overall health, said Orfeu M. Buxton, Ph.D, a professor of Biobehavioral Health at Pennsylvania State University. “You have to start listening to your body and seeing how much sleep it needs and sticking to it. When you prioritize sleep for a few weeks, you find out what it feels to be fully awake. Sleep, diet and exercise go together and need to be prioritized in order to enjoy life. If sleep isn’t a priority, work and everything will be impinged,” he said.

When spring or fall time changes happen sleep is disturbed, said Samer Makhoul, M.D., a board-certified Sleep Medicine practitioner with Conemaugh Medical Center, Johnstown. “For about one to two weeks after a time change, a person will feel its affects especially for those who are early risers and are sleep deprived. Daylight saving time changes have been researched extensively and the research indicates a link to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke after a time change, either in the spring or in the fall. An increase in motor vehicle crashes has also been documented.”

For most people the loss (or gain) of one hour of sleep has minimal impact, said Timothy Lucas, M.D., who is certified by the American Board of Sleep Medicine and serves as director of the Sleep Disorder Network in the Lung Disease Center of Central Pennsylvania. “Most adults will adjust after a few days and should feel back to normal by Wednesday or a week later,” he said. Moving across time zones with time shifts of greater than an hour disrupt sleep more often.

Sleeping later than normal, napping and reliance on “crutches” such as over-the-counter sleep aids, medication and alcohol are among the biggest mistakes adults make in coping with time changes, Lucas said. “You really want to resist the urge to sleep later in the morning the next day or to take a nap during the day. Napping leads to difficulties falling asleep.”

A sleep routine aka “good sleep hygiene” combined with 7-8 hours of sleep per night — produces health and performance benefits, the sleep specialists said.

On average, Ghaffari said, most adults function well on 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night while teens need 10 to 12 hours. Teens who are sleep deprived suffer daytime sleepiness, poor school performance and, studies show, an increase likelihood of being in a motor vehicle crashes.

Stimulants, from caffeine in all forms should be avoided after noon, Ghaffari recommends. Imbibing in alcohol is to be avoided before bedtime, Lucas said.

“You should get up in the morning and feel refreshed, not like you want to go right back to bed,” Lucas said. “You should feel rested during the day.”

Sleep needs vary from individual to individual, said Buxton, adding one-third to half of Americans find themselves at a sleep deficit. Signs of sleep deprivation include daytime drowsiness, sluggishness and “relying on a lot of caffeine” to boost productivity at work.

Each person’s daily, bodily rhythm — called a Circadian Rhythm — regulates patterns of waking, eating and retiring at night. Those who aren’t obtaining adequate, quality sleep, are impacted more significantly by time changes, Makhoul said, especially “early risers” who he defines as those who wake up when it’s dark, go to work in the dark, return home in the dark. Ghaffari said most people have inadequate exposure to natural sunlight which helps set the body’s internal clock.

Ghaffari said the human body — and all living things right down to cells — work best when a natural rhythm/routine of arising with the sun and retiring at dark is followed. “You don’t want to fight that pattern. You want to go with it,” Ghaffari said. “Sleep deprivation is like the IRS, it will catch up to you eventually. At some point, you are going to crash and sleep for 10-12 hours.”

Buxton said paying off sleep debt is “like paying off your credit card, it’s painful. Then, determine your bedtime and awake time each day. After a few weeks, your body’s Circadian Rhythm will adjust and your alarm clock will only be needed as a backup. You’ll find yourself naturally waking up at the same time each day. You will find out what it feels like to be fully awake,” Buxton said.

All sleep specialists recommend avoiding/limiting technology use, including watching television or scrolling through social media because it stimulates the brain and suppresses the body’s hormone producing, sleep-inducing chemicals such as melatonin, Makhoul said.

Falling asleep to or keeping the television on during the night is another common mistake, Buxton said.

“Even though you’re asleep, your brain still reacts to sounds, especially conversations, loud commercials, and voices even though you won’t remember it,” Buxton said, noting that most TV content between 9 p.m. and midnight is very “outrageous, exciting and with loud commercials” — designed to keep people awake and stimulated. The solution: Set a timer to automatically shut the TV off.

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

Tips for better rest

For sounder sleep, the experts suggests avoiding:

n caffeine

n alcohol before bed

n screen use one or two

hours before bed

n watching stimulating TV

n thinking about or doing work-related tasks

n falling asleep and leaving the TV on all night

To improve getting to sleep and staying asleep, the experts recommend:

n reading a book

n establishing a relaxing pre-bed routine

n listening to nature sounds, such as wind in the trees, distance ocean waves, or an oscillating fan instead of falling asleep to a TV turned on.

n lowering the room temperature

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