Sleep Your Way to Improved Health

Health and wellness is a booming industry. We all want to feel better and have increased energy. Billions of dollars a year are spent to improve health. Just look at all the ads the pharmaceutical industry is running. But did you know there is a simple – and free – way to improve your overall health? It’s sleep.

Sleep helps with stress. Lack of adequate sleep puts the body in a stressed state. This state increases blood pressure and increases production of stress hormones. Higher blood pressure raises your risks of heart attacks and strokes. Also, this increase in the stress hormones raises the level of inflammation in your body, putting you at risk for heart diseases, cancer and diabetes.

Sleep reduces risk of depression. Deficiencies in serotonin can make you more likely to suffer from depression. Adequate sleep works to keep the body’s chemicals in balance.

It is during sleep that the body repairs itself. Cells produce more protein during sleep. These protein molecules are the building blocks for cells, allowing them to repair damages caused by stress, ultraviolet rays and other exposures.

Weight loss is another benefit of adequate sleep. Lack of sleep disrupts the balance of hormones that regulate appetite. Research has shown a link between lack of sleep and being overweight or obese.

These are important health benefits. But new research has added one more to the list, especially for women.

Research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston has shown that a good night’s sleep may help women reduce their risk of heart disease.

“Research has shown a link between sleep disturbances and the risk of developing heart disease,” according to Dr. Bhuvana Muthuswamy, assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, “Chronic sleep deprivation increases severity of hypertension, diabetes and memory loss, sleep-disordered breathing like obstructive sleep apnea (when a person stops breathing several times a night), increases risk of hypertension, heart attacks and congestive heart failure.”

Women need about eight hours of sleep a night, but it varies by individual. “There is no set number, some people may need six to seven hours, others may need nine to have a productive day,” said Muthuswamy, who is also assistant professor in the Women’s Center for Comprehensive Care at Baylor College of Medicine.

Concludes Dr. Muthuswamy, “Heart disease is the number one cause of death in women. It is six times more common than breast cancer. Women need to be aware of their heart risks so that they can work on preventing and treating the risks early.”

Another study was conducted at Duke University. The sleep habits of 210 healthy men and women were analyzed. This included data on how long it took them to fall asleep, how many hours spent sleeping in the past month, whether they slept through the night, and if they felt drowsy during the day. Records were made of their levels of cholesterol, insulin, glucose, fibrinogen (a clotting agent), inflammatory proteins that contribute to heart disease, and insulin resistance, which is the precursor to diabetes.

The study, which was conducted by Dr. Edward Suarez, uncovered a consistent association between inadequate sleep and higher levels of the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. But these higher risks only occurred in the women! Men with poor sleep patterns showed to increased risks.

These studies show that a good night’s sleep is even more important for women. Unfortunately, its women who find sleep more elusive. According to research by the National Sleep Foundation, 60{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} of American women say they only get a good night’s sleep a few nights a week or less. Of the women polled, 67{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} say they frequently experience sleep problems.

Faced with this lack of sleep, 80{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} of women polled said that when they experience sleepiness during their day they just keep going. Caffeinated beverages are what get them through their days. In the poll, 65{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} said they are likely to use caffeinated beverages, with 37{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} saying they consume three or more in a day. The poll also showed that despite being tired, women do not head to bed early. In the hour before bed, 87{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} say they watch television, 60{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} are finishing household chores, 37{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} are doing activities with their children, 36{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} are on the internet, and 21{1d2611b7b2358db1a5d290a72f211c932ff29d0dc596ec3bc444512a63e05c32} do job-related activates, a few times a week.

In light of this information – and not wanting to become a hear disease statistic – how can you apply this in your life? How can you make better use of this free resource of sleep to improve your health?

· Keep a regular schedule. The more you can get your body accustomed to a set routine during the day, the more likely your body will fall asleep on schedule. This includes a routine with meals, exercise and daily activities.

· Wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

· Write out tomorrow’s to-do list well before heading to bed. This will help keep you from lying awake thinking about tomorrow.

· Make sure your pillow and mattress are comfortable. If you have back issues you may want to consider something like a body pillow to make you more comfortable.

· Cut out the nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant which will keep you awake.

· Avoid caffeine consumption any later than early afternoon. Caffeine can affect the body for as much as twelve hours after ingesting.

· Don’t use alcohol to help you sleep. It may initially help you fall asleep, but it disrupts your sleep after a few hours and can cause you to wake up.

Work at making these adjustments in your life. Not only will you sleep better, you’ll feel better.