Sleep critical for good health

Special to the Herald-LeaderAugust 12, 2013 

Americans seem to have a love/hate relationship with sleep. We spend significant amounts of money on things seen in TV and print ads that might help us sleep better. This implies we place significant value on sleep. On the other hand, we pack more and more activities on an around-the-clock schedule. Many people seem perfectly willing to substitute energy drinks for time in bed.

Multiple factors professionally and socially take us out of traditional sleep schedules.

Shift work might have individuals working during traditional sleep times and then trying to keep up with family activities during the time when they should be sleeping. Rotating shift schedules might disrupt this further by keeping the individual's "sleep clock" from getting adjusted.

Travel across time zones also disrupts sleep schedules. Furthermore, the popularity of late-night TV, computer activities and video games causes people to take away from traditional sleep time.

Eight hours traditionally has been regarded as the necessary amount of sleep. Studies have suggested the need for sleep varies with individuals, but detectable declines in function are seen often in people getting six hours of sleep or less. Performance in activities or jobs that require coordination and alertness can decline.

However, chronic sleep deprivation doesn't put just job performance at risk. Studies have suggested increased mortality risk in people who sleep less than six hours a day. It seems that sleep deprivation might lead to the release of stress mediators that are associated with the development of hypertension and heart disease. Immune function is also negatively affected by sleep deprivation. Furthermore, sleep deprivation has been associated with mediators that can cause overeating and obesity.

Sleep deprivation might not be just the result of individuals not spending enough time in bed. Disruption of sleep from whatever cause can lead to these effects. The most common additional cause that I see in sleep clinic is sleep-disordered breathing or obstructive sleep apnea. The multiple other causes include sleep movement disorders, such as periodic limb movement or chronic pain.

Even sleeping with your pet in the bed can cause recurrent sleep disruption and, long term, could cause sleep deprivation.

If you are not feeling adequately rested when you arise from sleep, you should discuss this with your health care provider.

Dr. John R. White, a pulmon ologist with Baptist Pulmonary and Critical Care Associates, is the medical director of Baptist Health Sleep Center.

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