According to Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen, "Getting the right amount of sleep is one of the most vital things you can do. Sleep should serve as a major health barometer."
Sleep helps our brains store memories. It gives our brains the downtime they need to repair and refresh their systems.
The Sleep Cycle
We go through four to six 90-minute cycles each night. In the first stages, when we are sleeping lightly, our brain waves are slowing and the brain is resting. Then our sleep becomes deeper until we reach REM - Rapid Eye Movement. During this stage, our eyes are moving rapidly but our bodies are kind of paralyzed. This is the level the brain really needs. It takes about 60 minutes to get to that deepest REM stage. If we're waking in the middle of the night, we're throwing the whole system out of whack.
How a Shortage of Sleep Affects Our Bodies
The problem is much worse than just feeling sleepy during the day. Lack of sleep makes a person less mentally alert and so more likely to have accidents. It also causes some health problems:
- increased arterial aging and risk of heart attack and stroke
- less serotonin is released so we crave more sugar to compensate
- messed up hormones cause us to eat too much
- a decrease in the amount of dopamine means we don't feel as good
- increased chance of viral infections
Insomnia is not being able to fall asleep in the first place, or not being able to get back to sleep after waking. About 25% of the people with insomnia wake early in the morning and can't get back to sleep. Over 30% wake repeatedly during the night. That gets worse with age; people over 65 might wake up 25 times a night.
Sleep Apnea is when a person stops breathing for a short period in the night - for up to 10 seconds - and then is startled awake. It is associated with snoring, but it is the silence of the non-breathing time that demonstrates the problem.
Sleeping too much is a sign of depression, but anxiety keeps keeps you awake. And up to 30% of us over 50 have restless leg syndrome.
What Can We Do About It?
Doctors Oz and Roizen offer a list of suggestions:
- Establish regular bedtime routines
- Try just letting go of being awake and kind of melting into sleep
- Avoid nicotine and alcohol for 1 1/2 hours before bed
- No caffeine at least 3 hours before bed
- No eating 3 hours before bed (to avoid reflux issues)
- No heavy exercise before bed (except sex)
- Treat allergies that cause a stuffy nose or other problems
- Have pain? Take an anti-inflammatory one hour before bed
- Try herbal supplements such as Valerian Root or Ginseng Extract
- Still not sleeping? Don't force it. Get up and do something calming: meditation, yoga, soft music. I read.
- Keep it cool and dark
- Add white noise to cover outside noises
- Loose clothing is good; none is better
- Get the most comfortable mattress and pillow you can afford
- Train your circadian rhythm. Establish a standard wake up time, including weekends
- Don't allow computers or a TV in your bedroom. (The doctors say that people who don't have a TV in the bedroom have 50% more sex than people who do!)
A whole lot of us are popping pills to go to sleep. It's better if we can do it without them. I used to have a glass of wine and settle down with a good book about an hour before I wanted to go to sleep. But then I started waking up every night at 3:30AM - exactly! I found out that booze can do that. Most people can handle one glass without problems. Apparently, I can't. I tried the herb Valerian. It helps me go to sleep, but I've never had a problem with that. It didn't stop me from waking in the middle of the night. I tried Tylenol PM. One pill knocks me out for the night but can leave me feeling drugged. Now I've discovered that the PM part is Benadryl. I need something at night for my allergies. Benadryl takes care of both problems. I sleep well, I don't feel drugged, and my nose doesn't run.