Suffering with a snorer in your bed. Courtesy photo
The days are getting longer – a sign that spring is here – and some of us are still groggy from the hour of sleep we lost when the clocks bounced forward an hour in observance of Daylight Savings Time.
“Many people do not realize the importance of healthy sleeping habits to their overall wellness,” said Dr. Frank Ralls of Quality Sleep Solutions and Medical Director of the Los Alamos Medical Center sleep clinic. “Most adults need at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night to maintain good health. In addition, there are several common sleeping disorders that, left untreated, can be even very damaging to a person’s health.”
Along with feeling tired, poor sleeping habits or untreated sleeping disorders can cause high blood pressure, increased stress, weight gain, depression, loss of motor skills and heart damage. In addition, lack of sleep makes it extremely dangerous to operate motor vehicles or other machinery.
The following four sleep disorders are common in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Insomnia – Symptoms of insomnia include the inability to initiate or maintain sleep, early morning awakening and excessive sleepiness throughout the day. Insomnia can impair a person’s daily functions, cause mood swings or depression, and affect heart health and weight gain. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 48 percent of Americans experience insomnia occasionally and 22 percent experience insomnia every night.
Narcolepsy – Narcolepsy is most often characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness combined with sudden muscle weakness. The sudden muscle weakness people with narcolepsy experience often occurs in “attacks” that are triggered by strong emotion or surprise, and can happen at any time, even during physical activity. This is particularly dangerous while driving.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) – The hallmark sign of RLS is an unpleasant feeling in the lower legs, often accompanied by aches and pains. People who experience RLS typically have difficulty falling asleep, and try to relieve their discomfort by walking or kicking their legs.
Sleep Apnea – Excessive snoring periodically interrupted by gasping or snorting noises is a key characteristic of sleep apnea. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to excessive tiredness during the day, high blood pressure, heart attack, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, stroke or depression.
“If you are experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders, contact a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment for you,” Dr. Ralls said.
Sleep disorders can often be treated with prescription medications, behavioral interventions or, in the case of sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices. There are over-the-counter medications, as well, but Dr. Ralls recommends consulting with a doctor or pharmacist before taking these.
There are several things people can do to build healthy sleeping habits into their daily routines. The National Sleep Foundation suggests the following tips for sleeping smarter:
- Establish a regular bed and wake time
- Avoid nicotine altogether and avoid caffeine close to bedtime
- Avoid alcohol
- Exercise regularly (but complete the workout at least 3 hours before bedtime)
- Establish a consistent relaxing “wind-down” bedtime routine
- Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet and comfortable
- Discuss the appropriate way to take any sleep aid with a healthcare professional
For more information about the importance of healthy sleeping habits, visit www.sleepfoundation.org or www.cdc.gov/sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or are regularly tired during daytime hours, talk to your primary care physician. To find out more about sleep studies visit www.qualitysleepsolutions.com.