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Chronically Knackered? Why Counting Sheep Might Not Be Enough

Chronically Knackered? Why Counting Sheep Might Not Be Enough
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BY KATHLEEN HEINS

If youai??i??re dragging through your days, it may be that youai??i??re not getting enough quality pillow time. Perhaps you believe a widespread myth that we need less sleep as we age and are burning the candle at both ends. The National Sleep Foundation wants to set the record straight. The majority of us actually need seven to nine hours of sleep nightly to stay healthy and feel rested.

If you donai??i??t get enough shut eye, youai??i??re setting yourself up for problems with memory, learning and productivity. Youai??i??re also jeopardizing your emotional stability and are more prone to depression and substance abuse, particularly if youai??i??re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Whatai??i??s more, insufficient sleep puts you at risk of accidents on the road or while operating heavy machinery. ai???Sleep is as critical to live as water and food,ai??? says Michael Howell, MD, associate professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota. Those who think they are getting by on a couple of hours of sleep a night, he states, often fall asleep during the day, nap or are impaired.

So what if you are having problems sleeping? According to the Mayo Clinic, if you are a consistently poor sleeper you increase your risk of illness and infection, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and chronic pain. If youai??i??re sleep deprived youai??i??re also more likely to find yourself packing on the pounds. ai???Difficulty with sleeping often predates both Parkinsonai??i??s and Alzheimerai??i??s disease,ai??? says Dr. Howell. ai???These disorders result from an accumulation of toxic products in the brain.ai??? New research suggests that if you donai??i??t sleep well youai??i??re not washing out these toxins.

Sleep problems as we age

It seems like it should be easy enough to put head to pillow and drift peacefully off to sleep but itai??i??s not the case. ai???Normally sleep becomes more fragmented as we age,ai??? says Dr. Howell. Along with a slowed metabolism, and achy muscles and joints, sleep problems can be a part of the welcome to the 50 plus club. This is due, in part, to the fact that our bodies make less of the chemicals and hormones that help us sleep as we age.

Nancy Campbell, 54 of DeQuincy, LA says that when she canai??i??t fall asleep she feels ai???like a fish out of water; flipping and flopping!ai???

As we age we also experience changes in circadian rhythms. This make us ready for bed earlier in the evening and more ready to seize the day in the morning. Planning a big night out on the town? You may want to plug in an afternoon nap beforehand to avoid being known as a party pooper!

Medical conditions such as gastrointestinal issues or respiratory problems can also be to blame. Restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement can also contribute.

What you can do

If youai??i??re having trouble sleeping, and have ruled out health problems, try some simple steps to see if you can get back on track in the sack:

    • Limit bright lights while winding down for the night. Pack eye masks for use when traveling on planes and in hotels.
    • Disengage from the TV, computer and cell phone once in bed to signal your brain that youai??i??re ready for sleep. Keep a traditional book on your night table (remember those?) for your just before lights out reading. Blue wavelength light, emitted by electronics, suppress melatonin; a hormone that tells our body itai??i??s time to call it a night.
    • Avoid alcohol. It may help you fall asleep but will wake you up in the middle of the night.
    • Pass on caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate, etc.) eight hours before going to bed.
    • Avoid smoking close to bedtime which can also make it difficult to fall asleep. Better yet, quit.
    • Donai??i??t chow down before going to bed. Your stomach needs to quiet down before bed too!
    • If you canai??i??t get to sleep, or wake up in the middle of the night, try an IPhone app such as one called Calm which offers soothing music and natures sounds to help you get in the zone.
    • ai???Get up and do something you enjoy until you feel sleepy again,ai??? suggests Dr. Howell.
    • Reserve your bedroom as a place to sleep or have sex; not watching TV or working on your computer. Make certain your sleeping space is quiet, dark and cool. If you donai??i??t have one, consider investing in an overhead fan. This is particularly helpful for those who have difficulty with hot flashes or night sweats. Room darkening shades can also work wonders.
    • Review your medications with a doctor to see if they are interfering with sleep.
    • Consider sleep therapy. A cognitive behavioral therapy program for insomnia, or CBT-I, helps you identify and replace thoughts and behaviors that cause or exacerbate sleep problems with those that promote sleep. Donai??i??t label yourself a poor sleeper. ai???You can think yourself into being a poor sleeper,ai??? says Dr. Howell.
    • Try some essential oils suggests Campbell. ai???Use them in a diffuser or rub them on your hands or the bottom of your feet; lavender and peppermint are a couple of my favorites,ai??? she says.Ai?? Campbell also turns to prayer to help calm worries that are keeping her awake.
    • In a just released study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, older adults who participated in a six-week program on mindfulness meditation had greater improvements in sleep and less depression and fatigue than those who followed more traditional approaches.
    • Maintain a regular sleep schedule and donai??i??t make up for lost sleep by sleeping in. This just disrupts your bodyai??i??s clock making it difficult to fall asleep the next night as well.
  • Exercise at least a little every day. It helps!
  • Talk to your doctor about a prescription or over-the-counter sleep aid but proceed with caution. The use of prescription sleeping aids have been associated with a shortened life span! Recent research from the University of Pennsylvaniaai??i??s Perelman School of Medicine reports that rather than increasing the dose of sleeping drugs taken over time a more effective approach may be to start at a higher dose and lower it as you find yourself sleeping better.

When breathing problems interfere

For others, it gets more complicated. Sleep apnea, in which you actually take shallow breaths or stop breathing during sleep, seems to be getting a lot more press lately. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 22 million American struggle with sleep apnea yet 80 percent of moderate and severe cases are undiagnosed.

Itai??i??s most common in men over 40, especially those who are overweight or obese. Left untreated, it can result in high blood pressure, chronic heart failure, atrial fibrillation, stroke and other cardiovascular issues. Itai??i??s also been associated with type 2 diabetes and depression.

CPAP Treatment

In some cases, those with sleep apnea may be advised to start CPAP treatment. CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure, utilizes mild air pressure to help keep airways while sleeping. Users, reports the NIH, report feeling more attentive and productive during the day, wake feeling refreshed and in a better mood, and find themselves feeling less draggy during the day. Some studies have shown improved reaction time and, consequently, less car accidents. Improved concentration and memory have also been reported. It does take some getting accustomed to and you may not notice any improvement in how you sleep or feel right away. CPAP treatment has the added benefit of helping to decrease or even prevent high blood pressure.

In some cases you may be able to get by with an oral appliance. The American Sleep Apnea Association reports that there are currently more than 80 devices available (by prescription only in the U.S.). Most work by pushing the jaw forward to keep breathing passages open. They work best for those with mild to moderate sleep apnea. A variety of surgical options are also available.

Diagnosing a Sleep Disorder

While there is no definitive test for insomnia, doctors are able to use various diagnostic tools to help them create the right treatment plan for you. This might include:

  • A sleep log:Ai?? Simple diary in which you log your bedtime, waking time, and level of fatigue throughout the day.
  • Sleep inventory: A questionnaire that collects information about your health, medical history and sleep patterns.
  • Blood work: Used to rule out medical problems that can cause sleep disorders in some
  • Overnight study: An exam in which you actually spend the night on a comfortable bed in a sleep lab. You be connected to an EEG to monitor the stages of your sleep along with oxygen levels, restlessness and heart and breathing.
  • Home sleeping test.

When to see a doctor

Talk to your doctor if your sleeping problems are more than just occasional or if you feel as if you dragging through your day on a regular basis. Be sure to mention any problems youai??i??re having with sleeping during regular checkups. Unfortunately, most of us tend to think that sleep problems are normal so they donai??i??t bring it up. Take sleep problems as seriously as you would other health problems that interfere with your ability to feel your best!

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