- FRONT PAGE
by Dr. Asela Russell
Do you feel tired all the time? Do you hit the Snooze button more than once? Are you having trouble concentrating at work or at school? Are you gaining weight but don’t know why? You may be suffering from sleep deprivation. Sleep is more than just a chance for our bodies to recuperate from the stresses of being awake. Sleep is critical for the healthy functioning of many aspects of your body and mind.
What happens when we sleep?
There are five sleep stages that make up a sleep cycle of about 90 minutes. Each of us should get about 5 sleep cycles a night with varying amounts of REM (dream sleep) and deep sleep. So, if we need 5 cycles of 90 minutes, that means that most of us should get 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation usually happens when we receive fewer than 5 hours of sleep nightly.
Are we critically sleepless in America?
According to the CDC, 30% of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. This problem has steadily worsened since the 1960’s and 75% of adults frequently have sleep problems. Sleep deprivation is worse among shift workers, the recently divorce, separated or widowed and new parents. Unfortunately bad sleep has lots of negative health consequences including weight gain, depression, decreased immune function, increased stress, poor marital satisfaction, high blood pressure, increased pain, uncontrolled diabetes, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Are Americans too fat because of sleep deprivation?
Increasing evidence shows that chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity by a variety of mechanisms. Sleep loss up-regulates appetite via changes in glucose and insulin metabolism. With chronic sleep deprivation this can increase insulin resistance and the risk of Type II diabetes. Ironically sleep deprivation increases ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and decreases leptin (the hormone that makes you feel full), which together mean that we consume more calories when sleep deprived. Of course, when we’re sleep deprived we have more time to eat, but the full story is more complex and may involve increases in serotonin. Serotonin, a brain chemical linked to depression, switches on a preference for sugary snacks. The weight gain puzzle is complicated by the fact that we miss out on burning nearly 120 extra calories per hour with every hour of lost sleep. And, of course when we’re sleep deprived, we decrease not only our motivation to exercise but our ability to lose fat.
10 simple steps to Better Sleep:
1. Keep at sleep diary every night for a week. Note when you go to sleep and when you wake up. What did you eat and drink in the 6 hours before bed? What is the light, noise and temperature level in your bedroom? Think of sleep problems like a detective story and try to track down the suspects that are endangering your precious sleep.
2. Select one bed time and stick to it. Count back 7 ½ hours from your wake-up time and make that you official bed-time. Tell everyone in your household. Also be cautious about “social jet lag”, a shift in your sleep schedule that many people experience on their days off compared to work days. A recent study showed that “social jet lag” of even 1 hour can be associated with a 33% increased risk for being overweight or obese.
3. Stop all caffeine by 2 pm. Caffeine takes up to 14 hours to leave your system, so it can hang around, long after you’ve had that latte. Caffeine increases the number of times you awaken at night and decreases the total amount of sleep time. Also limit anti-histamines and other stimulant medications Nicotine can act in much the same way, especially at high doses.
4. Limit alcohol and stop it 3 hours before bed. Alcohol prevents your getting into the deep stages of sleep and directly inhibits the production of growth hormone. Alcohol may initially sedate you, making it easier to fall asleep; however, as it is metabolized and cleared from your system during sleep, it causes arousals that can last as long as two to three hours after it has been eliminated. These arousals disturb sleep, often causing intense dreaming, sweating, and headache.
5. Limit vigorous exercise in the 4 hours before bed, especially if you feel energized after exercise. Instead practice evening prayer or meditation to quiet your buzzing thoughts. You can also practice PMR or Progressive Muscle Relaxation to help you to counteract the anxiety and stress that can result in tight muscles and wound-up thoughts.
6. Get 15 minutes of sunlight every day. Sunlight in the morning is especially important as it resets your biorhythms but avoid light exposure at night.
7. Create a relaxing bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep. Limit the amount of light exposure in your bedroom, since even brief exposure to light can shut off melatonin production and interfere with sleep. Also avoid reading, watching TV in bed, and snuggling up to your phone or iPad. Consider ear-plugs or a white noise generator if you live in a noisy area. Finally try to keep you bedroom dry and set the temperature in the 55 to 75 degree F range.
8. Practice sleep enhancement. Take a warm bath 1 hour before bedtime and allow your body to slowly cool off to encourage the core temperature cool-down that helps deepen sleep.
9. Be on the lookout for signs of sleep apnea. Do you store or stop breathing? Ask you bed partner or record yourself in deep sleep. If you stop breathing periodically, seek medical attention for a formal sleep study.
10. Avoid large meals before bed. Skip the protein and stick to carbohydrates or dairy as your bedtime snack. Stop drinking liquids at least 2 hours before bedtime, so that your sleep won’t be interrupted by needing to wake up and use the bathroom.
What’s your take on this subject?
Dr. Asela Russell, the founder of Center for Women’s Health, is a Board-certified OB/GYN. She has practiced in the Denver Metro area since 1987 and she opened the Center for Women’s Health in 2003, after working with The OB/GYN Associates for more than 15 years.
Dr. Russell attended Yale University and Duke Medical School and completed her OB-GYN Residency at the University of California-San Francisco. After completing her residency, she was a US Public Health Service provider working for the Navajo Nation in Arizona.
Dr. Russell believes in medical care that weaves together the physical and holistic aspects of health. She has a special interest in women’s hormone issues including menopause and polycystic ovary syndromes and how they impact women’s lives. She is an accomplished minimally-invasive surgeon and performs both hospital and office procedures to treat excessive bleeding, pelvic support problems and other common women’s conditions. In addition, she has delivered over 2000 babies!
“I believe that participating in women’s health care is the most important aspect of medicine,” she says. “We are privileged to welcome new lives into the world and be a force for the health of future generation.”
Her interests include travel, creative writing and reading mystery novels. She speaks Spanish and French. Dr Russell is married and has two children.