• Dr. Todd Hurst, MD

Sleep - Why is it So Important?

Why is Sleep so Important?

Sleep is necessary for our health and wellbeing. It is a basic, essential function of life. Unfortunately, the importance of a good night’s sleep is often overlooked and millions of people suffer from lack of sleep. Recent studies have shown people are sleeping less and are having more difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep. A good night’s sleep not only makes you feel better, but helps you avoid the serious health problems that are associated with chronic sleep deprivation.

Can Lack of Sleep Cause Weight Gain?

An occasional “all nighter” is probably not harmful; however, chronic, sleep deprivation can result in serious health consequences. Not only can lack of sleep cause weight gain 46, but it can also decrease your cognitive function and affect your memory. Chronic sleep deprivation has been associated with high blood pressure19, heart disease32, diabetes 7and depression. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation may even decrease your life expectancy.

What Causes Poor Sleep?

There are many behavior and environmental factors that may affect your sleep – perhaps the most important being stress9. Some sleep experts say this is the number one cause of sleeping difficulties. Once the stressful situation is resolved – a more healthy sleep routine usually returns. Your job can also have a significant impact on your sleep routine. Up to 20% of the work force in the United States does shift work – this make sleeping at regular times difficult and leads to decreased sleep and poor sleep quality. Other factors that affect your sleep include drinking alcohol 04 or caffeine 52, or using nicotine 38 before bed.

How to Improve Your Sleep

There are several ways to achieve and maintain a healthy sleep pattern. We suggest maintaining a routine before bed. That is, try to have a set schedule as to when you go to bed and wake in the morning, even on the weekends when there is temptation to stay up late and sleep in the next day.

Have an inviting bedtime routine such as reading something non-work related or perhaps practice meditation, relaxation therapy, or prayer before bed.

Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bed as they are both stimulants and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption before bed – this can cause episodic awakenings throughout the night and restless sleep. Try to minimize excessive exercise 48 before bed as well as eating a heavy meal close to bedtime, this makes falling asleep more difficult.

Be sure you have a comfortable sleep atmosphere including a comfortable mattress, pillows, and blankets. Your room should be inviting for sleep – dark, cool and quiet. Don’t let the bedroom turn into the family room. For example, don’t watch television, work on the computer, or have work related materials with you in bed. Your bedroom should be a place for only sleep and sex.

If you have tried all of the above techniques and still have problems falling asleep or maintaining sleep, it’s time to talk to your doctor about what is causing your sleep difficulty and what can be done to help you get a good night’s sleep.

And the Beat Goes On,

R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE