Sleep Your Way to Better Health

by Millennium Physician Group

Spring Clean Your Sleep Routine

A good night’s sleep sure seems to put a little pep in our step. But can you really sleep your way to better health? Benjamin Franklin said, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” and more recently Beyonce was quoted in an article saying, “Having peace, happiness, and healthiness is my definition of beauty. And you can’t have any of that without sleep.”  

“Sleep is as important for health as nutrition and exercise,” explains Millennium Physician Group Sleep Specialist Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, MD. “It really is one of the three pillars of health, and you have to make sure that you get enough. It helps with healing of our body and our muscles and has been shown to be important for metabolism. Sleep has multiple benefits, and we all need to make sure we prioritize sleep.” 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports if not getting enough sleep is a regular part of your routine, you may be at increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, poor mental health, and even early death. If you don’t get enough sleep night after night, it can lead to all sorts of physical effects. But even a few missed nights of sleep can take a real physical toll on your body. 

“I don’t really worry about an occasional bad night. What I worry about is consistently not getting enough, because that can affect our health,” Dr. Abbasi-Feinberg explains. “There’s a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes if you don’t get enough sleep. There are also problems with being sleepy during the day, which then increases your risk of accidents in terms of car crashes and work-related accidents.” 

Not getting enough sleep can affect your overall health, your mood, and your stress levels. And racking up those sleepless nights can also take a real toll on your personal relationships.  

“We know that people who don’t get enough sleep tend to be less empathetic,” Dr. Abbasi-Feinberg reveals. “So, in any relationship, either at work or at home, sleep deprived people tend to be grumpier and more likely to be short tempered, which then affects  all their interpersonal interactions.” 

Spring Clean Your Sleep Routine

“There’s a misconception that people need less sleep as they get older. For folks 65 or so, they still need seven hours of sleep. The problem that we see is that they tend to have more medical issues, and it becomes a little bit more difficult for folks over the age of 65 to make sure that they’re prioritizing sleep.”  

There’s a whole host of things that can affect your sleep, specifically as you age: 

  • Certain medications
  • New and different schedules after retirement
  • Going to sleep much earlier than you used to, and waking up much earlier
  • Taking naps during the afternoon
  • Changes in your bladder functioning/overnight bathroom schedule
  • Sleep apnea

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports ​​sleep problems are also a common symptom of depression, and you should see your healthcare provider to find out whether depression or another underlying health condition is affecting your sleep. The NIH goes on to list the following common sleep problems or disorders are common in older adults and should be addressed by your healthcare provider: 

  • Insomnia
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Narcolepsy or hypersomnia
  • Sleep apnea, a condition where breathing stops for a time during sleep, can cause severe problems.

Losing That Hour of Sleep: Daylight Saving Time

Many agencies, including the Sleep Research Society agree “research shows that daylight saving time causes acute sleep loss and chronic circadian misalignment”. This means that by increasing light exposure in the evening, daylight saving time can cause a delay in the body’s production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, resulting in a later bedtime and a shorter sleep duration. 

“Daylight saving time has a negative impact on our health,” agrees Dr. Abbasi-Feinberg. “The problem is that extra hour of light in the evening delays our sleep. That makes it more difficult to fall asleep and then leads to chronic sleep loss.” 

How to Become a Champion Napper

You might be looking to naps as a way to bank some Zs. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, a third of U.S. adults nap on any given day. And believe it or not, you could be doing it wrong. There are keys to make the most of your next nap. 

“Keep the naps short. Short meaning between 20 and 40 minutes at the most,” advises Dr. Abbasi-Feinberg. “I often recommend that you take a nap earlier in the day, so somewhere between 1:00 and 2:30 in the afternoon. There is some good data that shows if you are taking the nap to increase performance, drinking a little caffeine before you take your nap makes a big difference and can be very effective so that you can function for the rest of the day.” 

In fact, caffeine followed by a brief nap has been shown to improve alertness and mental acuity in several studies. One study, specifically of night shift workers, showed that a combination of napping plus caffeine was the most effective way to improve alertness and performance tests evaluating reaction time, sustained attention, verbal fluency, and other cognitive skills. 

Tip the Sleep Scales in Your Favor

There are some simple steps you can take to improve your sleep:

  • Limit exposure to electronic devices
  • Make your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine close to bedtime
  • Exercise regularly
  • Manage stress
  • Avoid large means before bedtime

And whether it’s daylight saving time or a bout of jet lag, Dr. Abassi-Feinberg offers up a few bonus tips to get back on a healthy sleep schedule.  

“Getting up in the morning at the same time is probably the best thing that you can do for your sleep. And getting outside into the sunshine is the second-best thing you can do to reset your biological clock.” 

Dr. Abbasi-Feinberg adds that you should consider seeking help from your healthcare provider if you have persistent sleep problems. 

Sweet dreams! 

Dr. Fariha Abbasi Feinberg

Dr. Fariha Abbasi Feinberg

Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, MD

Sleep Specialist

Fort Myers, FL

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