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Catch Some Zzzs

Lack of sleep can cause problems ranging from a lousy memory and weight gain to accidents and heart disease. The good news? There are effective ways to get the right kind of shut-eye.

Lindsay Morris
November 29, 2017

Sleep. It seems you can never get enough of it, right? Whether you’re a new parent, a college student, or … well, just aging, sleep is that friend who never seems to stay long enough. In fact, nearly 41 million Americans suffer from insufficient sleep.

We’re supposed to spend about one-third of our lives asleep. The body needs rest. The problem is, we live in a society that views sleep as optional. And when we do go to bed, we drop on a mattress, shut our eyelids, and expect a revitalizing slumber to ensue, which doesn’t happen all that often.

This blatant disregard for something our bodies require is doing more than making us tired, though.

Sometimes lack of sleep can be caused by something as simple as being awakened by a noise, drinking too much alcohol, or needing to use the bathroom. Other times, sleep deprivation can be the result of a more serious problem. Heart conditions and sleep issues are often linked, says Dr. Michael Newnam, director of sleep medicine at Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa and Hillcrest Hospital Cushing.

“The heart’s job is to circulate blood to bring oxygen to the body,” Newnam says. “If the heart isn’t functioning properly, shortness of breath, palpitations, fluid retention and abnormal heart rhythms can occur; any of these can awaken people at night and disrupt sleep. Heart disease can predispose someone to sleep apnea as well, which disturbs normal sleep due to poor breathing.”

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that is accompanied by frequent periods of cessation of breathing lasting more than 10 seconds with drops in oxygen level. Yes, you stop breathing for more than 10 seconds at a time – scary stuff.

“OSA causes ongoing low oxygen at night during sleep, which raises blood pressure and increases the risk of developing atrial fibrillation and heart failure,” says Newnam.

While some people’s sleep issues are due to heart conditions and sleep apnea, not every case is so serious. Some of us are lacking in sleep due to some simple issues which can be solved relatively easily. In the past 30 years, the field of sleep medicine has expanded significantly, and, in the process, doctors have unlocked the secrets of good slumber and discovered practical tips to help us all sleep more soundly.

So, how can you make the most of your sleep? Here are a few ideas.


Stop drinking so much at night
Do you often wake up to pee in the middle of the night? You may want to limit your liquid intake in the evenings. If the problem persists, you may have a medical problem, like a bladder infection, and you should talk to your medical provider.


Cut the stress
Oftentimes, your tossing and turning are related to a stressful work or family situation. Take an assessment of what you can do during the day to cut your stress like yoga or exercise. Make time to wind down before bed by taking a relaxing bath or meditating. If you can’t easily fall back asleep, get out of bed and read or listen to music until you feel sleepy again. Avoid technology during this time.


Exercise regularly
At least 30 minutes of exercise daily helps you fall asleep at night, stay asleep and get into a deeper sleep. For many people, exercising in the late afternoon or early evening offers the best results. Do what works best for you, but try not to exercise too late at night, as this can increase your alertness, making it more difficult to fall asleep.


Create a peaceful environment
Could your bedroom be a factor in your sleeplessness? Perhaps you’re too hot or too cold. Most people prefer sleeping in a cool environment between 60 to 67 degrees. Are there distractions such as an animal waking you up at night? Does your husband’s snoring wake you up? Time to banish the dog from the bed, and your husband too. Or just get the husband some nose strips.


Add some consistency
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Even if you can’t do this every day, aim to do it most days. When sleep schedules are inconsistent, the body gets confused and you will feel drowsy during the day. It’s best to try to catch up on sleep with naps instead of trying to sleep in.


Avoid electronics in bed
If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist the temptation to check your phone for the time or Facebook updates. Electronics give off a blue light that can make you more alert. Scrolling on your phone, laptop, or iPad right before bedtime can also make it more difficult for you to fall asleep.


Avoid much alcohol intake in the evening
At first, a couple glasses of wine will make you feel drowsy and take you right to Sleepy Town. But this effect only lasts a few hours. After that, the alcohol has a stimulating effect. You should stop drinking four hours before bedtime (buzz kill, right?).


Squelch the pain
Some people have trouble sleeping at night because they experience arthritis or another pain-related condition. Talk to your medical provider if pain is keeping you up at night. He or she may be able to prescribe something to help.


Limit caffeine intake
Granted this can be a tough one for many. Experts recommend avoiding caffeine within eight hours of bedtime. This means no caffeine after 2 p.m. if you go to bed at 10 p.m. Also, try limiting yourself to two cups of coffee a day. Boo — another buzz kill.


If you’re already following all of the tips above, and you’re still having difficulty sleeping, you may have a sleep condition, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. You should consult your medical provider.


10 Signs You’re Sleep Deprived

Though you may think your five-hours-a-night habit is nothing to worry about, chronic sleep deprivation has been tied to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Read on for subtle signs your body needs more time in bed.


1. Still hungry
When you’re not sleeping properly, you tend to eat more of what you’re craving because you’re not feeling the signals to stop eating.

2. Weight gain
A lack of sleep can also have direct effects on your metabolism. A 2012 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that just four and a half hours of sleep for four days straight can reduce your fat cells’ ability to respond to insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating energy, by 30 percent.

3. Feeling impulsive
People tend to act without thinking when they’re exhausted.

4. Memory is shot
Before you panic about having a serious memory problem, know that your brain is probably fine. When you’re tired, you’re usually not paying a whole lot of attention to what’s going on when trying to make a memory.

5. Trouble making decisions
Sleep deprivation can affect speed and higher-level cognitive processing. That means essential functions, like problem-solving or time management, become even more difficult to carry out.

6. Motor skills are off
When you’re tired, there’s a lapse in how you neurologically function in general. With lowered reaction time and concentration also comes more difficulty with movement.

7. Emotions are all over the place
You become over-reactive to emotional stimuli. So, things that normally haven’t gotten you worked up in the past may provoke anxiety, sadness, or anger.

8. Can't shake feeling of being sick
If you’re not sleeping properly there can be significant issues in terms of your body’s ability to fight off infections. A 2009 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who got less than seven hours of sleep were nearly three times as likely to develop a cold than those who got eight hours or more rest a night.

9. Having trouble sleeping
When fatigued, you’re not able to control the muscles of the eye as well. Skimping on shut-eye tires out the ciliary muscle, which helps your eyes focus. The result: you’ll have a harder time reading up close. A lack of sleep can also make alignment harder to control, potentially resulting in double vision.

10. Skin isn't looking good
It’s called “beauty sleep” for a reason. A 2013 clinical trial conducted at University Hospitals Case Medical Center found that skin recovery was 30 percent higher in those who had good quality sleep over those with poor sleep. A lack of sleep upsets hormonal balance and elevates circulating estrogen levels. Not only can you expect more breakouts when you skip out on rest, your skin may also appear older.