Sleep Health

Sleep Health

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep health is a relatively new field of research exploring how we sleep and the factors that impact it.  It is an important area of research and study because adequate sleep is a critical determinant of health and well-being. Moreover, sleep is a basic requirement for infant, child, and adolescent health and development.

What are the Benefits of Good Sleep?

Maintaining good sleep health has many positive benefits. Getting enough sleep can actually help you ward off diseases, and help you to:

  • Improve memory
    • Strengthens memories or practice skills learned while you were awake
  • Decrease inflammation
    • Fights off infection
  • Lower risk of obesity
    • Manages calories more effectively, reducing effects on your metabolism, hunger hormones, and insulin levels
  • Control blood sugar
    • Supports the metabolism of sugar to prevent diabetes
  • Improve your mood
    • Makes you feel rested, happier and less irritable

What Happens to The Body When You Sleep?

As you sleep, your body refuels and repairs itself.  Adequate sleep helps reduce heart rate and blood pressure, slows breathing to a normal pace, and releases growth hormones to rebuild muscles and joints.

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following hours of sleep per age group:

What is Normal Sleep?

Normal sleep or a good night’s sleep is when you fall asleep quite easily, do not wake up during the night, do not wake up too early, and feel refreshed in the morning.

What are Normal Sleep Cycles?

During several hours of normal sleep, your brain cycles through five stages of sleep every 90 to 110 minutes.  These sleep cycles include the 4 stages of non-REM sleep (light to deep sleep) and REM sleep. REM is short for rapid eye movement–describing the quick eye movement that can be observed during deep sleep.  REM sleep is the lightest stage of sleep, during which a person may wake easily.

What are the Different Phases of Sleep?

Normal sleep cycles are made up of a sequence of different sleep phases. When measuring total sleep time, sleep is considered to start when you close your eyes to fall asleep.  The period between first closing your eyes and entering phase 1 is known as sleep onset.

Phase 1 is very light sleep, where you are drifting in and out of consciousness and are easily woken.  In Phase 2 the functioning of the brain slows down but there are still short bursts of activity. The first two phases of light sleep make up about half of the total sleep cycle.  Phases 3 and 4 are the deep sleep phases. You dream in phase 4 (REM sleep). When this phase ends, you sleep more lightly again before a new full sleep cycle starts. Some people completely or partially wake up after the sleep cycle ends, while others stay asleep until morning.

Total sleep time ends when you wake up and then stay awake and get up.

How to Evaluate Sleep Satisfaction?

When evaluating your sleep, the appropriate sleep satisfaction elements should include how you feel (a) about your sleep, (b) immediately after your sleep, and (c) during the subsequent day.  Then evaluate your environmental elements, such as (a) bedding comfort, (b) bedroom temperature, and (c) noise and light in the bedroom. Also, evaluate how you feel (a) about the time it takes to fall asleep, (b) the ease with which you fall back to sleep after awakening during a sleep period, and (c) the amount of sleep on weekdays and weekends, as well as how undisturbed your sleep is. These are all appropriate contributors to sleep satisfaction.

How Can You Improve Your Sleep?

Developing good sleep habits (or sleep hygiene) can help you get a good night’s sleep. Here are some tips to help you improve your sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and relaxing.  Adjust the room temperature for comfortable sleeping.
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones from the bedroom.
  • Avoid large meals, as well as caffeine and alcoholic beverages at least 4 hours before bedtime.
  • Get regular exercise during the day, as it can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

What Should You Do if You Can’t Sleep?

If you have persistent sleep problems that are interfering with your sleep, you should contact your doctor for evaluation and treatment, preferably one familiar with assessing and treating sleep disorders.

Before you see your doctor, keep a diary of your sleep habits for about 10 days to discuss at the visit.  For your sleep diary, you should include the following, recording when you:

  • Go to bed.
  • Go to sleep.
  • Wake Up.
  • Get out of bed.
  • Take naps (if any).
  • Exercise.
  • Consume alcohol.
  • Consume caffeinated beverages.

Here is an example sleep diary from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Understanding the Science Behind Sleep

What are Circadian Rhythms?

According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, biological clocks produce circadian rhythms and regulate their timing.  Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily, 24-hour cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in your environment.  For example, sleeping at night and being awake during the day is a light-related circadian rhythm.

What is The Master Clock?

The master clock is a group of about 20,000 nerve cells (neurons) that form a structure called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).  The SCN is located in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus and receives direct input from the eyes. The master clock is responsible for coordinating all the biological clocks in the body, keeping them in sync.

Does the Body Make and Keep Its Own Circadian Rhythms?

Natural factors within the body produce circadian rhythms, as well as signals from the environment, such as daylight.  The light can turn on or turn off genes that control the molecular structure of biological clocks. Changing the light-dark cycles can speed up, slow down, or reset biological clocks as well as circadian rhythms.

How are Circadian Rhythms Related to Sleep?

Circadian rhythms help determine our sleep patterns.  The body’s master clock controls the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy.  It receives information about incoming light from the optic nerves, which relay information from the eyes to the brain.  When there is less light–like at night–the SCN tells the brain to make more melatonin so you get drowsy.

How Are Circadian Rhythms Related to Jet Lag?

People get jet lag when travel disrupts their circadian rhythms.  Passing through different time zones resets your biological clocks.  It often takes a few days for your biological clocks to adjust and reset themselves.

Do Circadian Rhythms Affect Body Function and Health?

Circadian rhythms can affect body function and health.  Specifically, they can influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions.  If your biological clocks run fast or slow, it can result in disrupted or abnormal circadian rhythms. Consequently, irregular rhythms have been linked to various chronic health conditions, such as sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.

How Do Researchers Study Circadian Rhythms?

Researchers study humans and perform experiments altering light and dark periods in a subject’s environment to look for changes in gene activity or other molecular signals. This research helps scientists understand how biological clocks work and keep time. It also helps scientists identify which genetic components of biological clocks may be broken, causing irregular circadian rhythms.

How Does Circadian Rhythm Research Contribute to Human Health?

Circadian rhythm research not only gives scientists a better understanding of how our biological clocks tick, but it also leads to innovations in treatments for sleep disorders, obesity, mental health disorders, jet lag, and other health problems. It can also improve ways for individuals to adjust to nighttime shift work.

Understanding What Causes Sleep Disturbance

Whenever there are sleep loss and untreated sleep disorders, negative behaviors result affecting family health and interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, fatigue and sleepiness can reduce productivity and increase the chance for mishaps such as medical errors and motor vehicle or industrial accidents.

What are the Health Effects of Not Getting Enough Sleep?

Sleep is important for overall health and well-being. If you don’t get enough sleep, poor-quality sleep increases your risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes

What Causes Sleep Problems?

There are many factors that cause sleep problems, including but not limited to:

  • Aging
  • Environmental
    • Alcohol and drug use
    • Extreme temperatures
  • Genetics
    • Narcolepsy
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Life Stresses
    • Death of a loved one
    • Job demand, loss or change
    • Moving
  • Medical Issues
  • Medications
    • Antidepressants
    • Blood pressure medications
    • Over-the-counter cold medicines
  • Mental Illness
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
  • Physical Disturbances
    • Pain from ulcers
    • Hot flashes due to menopause
    • Frequent urination due to an enlarged prostate
  • Snoring
  • Travel
    • Jet lag
  • Working Shifts at Odd Hours

What are Sleep Disorders?

A sleep disorder (somnipathy) is any disruption in your sleep pattern that interferes with your normal physical, mental, social and emotional functioning.

What are Symptoms of a Sleep Disorder?

Generally, symptoms of a sleep disorder depend on the type of disorder you may have, but you might

  • Feel very sleepy during the day
  • Have trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Snore
  • Stop breathing briefly and often while asleep
  • Have uncomfortable feelings in your legs and the urge to move them

Are There Different Types of Sleep Disorders?

There are several different types of sleep disorders that can affect how well you sleep, some of which include:

  • Insomnia
    • Inability to initiate or maintain sleep
    • Early morning awakening and inability to resume sleeping
  • Narcolepsy
    • Excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden muscle weakness
    • Experience uncontrollable “sleep attacks” (fall asleep suddenly)
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
    • Unpleasant “creeping” sensation or throbbing in the lower legs
    • Irresistible urge to move them
  • Sleep Apnea
    • Loud snoring with periodic gasping or “snorting” noises
    • Breathing stops and starts over and over while sleeping
  • Sleep Walking
    • Get out of bed and wander around at night without knowing it

How are Sleep Disorders Diagnosed?

If you suspect that you have a sleep disorder, discuss your symptoms with your primary care doctor.  He or she can perform a physical exam and help you identify the difficulties you are having with sleep.  Keeping a sleep diary for 2 weeks may be helpful to your doctor. Some illnesses can cause disturbed sleep, so your doctor may order tests to rule out other conditions.

If your doctor suspects that you have a sleep disorder, he or she may refer you to a sleep disorder clinic.  A sleep specialist will review your symptoms and may suggest that you undergo a sleep study.

What is a Sleep Study?

A sleep study or polysomnogram (PSG) is a multiple-component test that electronically transmits and records specific physical activities while you sleep.  The sleep study can be done at home (home sleep testing) for select patients. The recordings become data that are analyzed by a qualified physician to determine whether or not you have a sleep disorder.

How Do You Treat Sleep Disorders?

The treatment for sleep disorders depends on the type of disorder you have. For sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep your airways open so you rest soundly.  If you have narcolepsy or restless legs syndrome, your doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes and prescription medication. And if you have insomnia, your doctor may also prescribe medication, and/or recommend therapies that calm your breathing and calm your mind.

Contact Us

If you have sleep issues, call CT Sinus Center at (203)574-5997 to schedule a consultation.  Having a proper diagnosis and treatment could yield a happier and healthier you.