Joanne's Journal Digest - August 2018
Joanne’s Journal Digest is a compilation of messages from Joanne M. Conroy, MD, CEO and President of Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Joanne’s Journal reflects her thoughts and opinions on a wide variety of topics affecting our communities. This month she talks about the importance of sleep.
Recently I listened to an NPR interview with Matthew Walker, the author of a book titled “Why We Sleep.”
It is estimated that sleep disorders affect 50 to 70 million Americans, and the long-term effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been associated with an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke. Sleep deprivation can result in cognitive impairment and may affect performance in tasks that require vigilance, decision making and memory planning
There were many assumptions I had about the need for sleep that the author de-bunked in this interview. Like many, I am up each day at 4:30 am and often don’t go to bed until 10 or 10:30 pm, which means I’m living on six hours of sleep instead of the recommended eight hours. I thought that catching a nap on the weekend was all I needed to repay my sleep debt! Not so fast…
Sleep actually plays a vital role in how our brain and body functions. And, as we get older, we need the same amount of sleep but may need to go to bed earlier to get the same long-term benefits.
In his book, Walker recommends the following to adjust your schedule to get better sleep:
- No screens at night. Blue light from screens inhibits your melatonin production, which makes it harder to get to sleep.
- Exercise, but not right before bed. People who exercise sleep better, but if you do so right before bed your body temperature and heart rate will still be up.
- Sleep in a cold room. You’ll sleep better because your core temperature drops when you sleep.
- Take a hot bath or shower. When you take a hot bath, blood rises closer to the surface of your skin. Once you’re out of the bath, this makes it easier to release heat and actually lowers your body temperature.
- Avoid sleeping pills. Sleeping pills don’t put you to sleep; they limit your deep NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and REM sleep, so you aren’t actually getting the rest you need.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol inhibits deep NREM sleep and REM sleep.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine has a half-life of 5-to-6 hours, meaning that it takes that long for your body to process just one half of the amount you took in.
- Your body likes routines. If you wake up and go to sleep at roughly the same time each day, you’ll find it easier to sleep.
- Dim the lights before bed to facilitate melatonin production.
- Keep the room dark. Use blackout curtains or a sleep mask, so the sun doesn’t wake you up too early.
I tried an experiment for eight days incorporating many of Walker’s tips. And, I actually felt better in the morning after getting eight hours of sleep. There are a few things that are no cost ways to be healthier, and getting enough sleep is one of them.