How to Improve Your Sleep
SLEEP PROBLEMS are nothing new. As early as the fifth century B.C.E., a servant at the court of Persian King Ahasuerus recorded that one night “the king’s sleep fled.”—Esther 6:1.
Today millions of people have difficulty sleeping well. According to Brazilian sleep specialist Rubens Reimão, an estimated 35 percent of the world’s population suffer from insomnia. * Dr. David Rapoport of the New York University Sleep Disorders Center described sleeping badly as “one of the most serious epidemics of the turn of the century.”
To make matters worse, many insomniacs suffer in ignorance. According to researchers at the Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil, as few as 3 percent of sufferers are correctly diagnosed. Many simply accept sleeping badly as part of life and resign themselves to spending their waking hours feeling irritated and drowsy.
Tossing and turning for hours, with your eyes wide open, while everyone else is sleeping peacefully is a most undesirable experience. Still, sporadic insomnia lasting a few days is not uncommon, and it is generally related to stress and the ups and downs of life. Wheninsomnia becomes chronic, however, emotional or clinical disorders may be involved, and it is important to seek medical help.—See the box above.
Could you be suffering from a sleep disorder? If after filling out the questionnaire on page 9, you conclude that you do have sleep problems, there is no need to despair. Recognizing the need for help is half the battle of curing a sleep disorder. According to Brazilian neurologist Geraldo Rizzo, 90 percent of insomnia sufferers can be treated successfully.
However, for appropriate treatment to be given, it is important to know exactly what is causing the insomnia. A medical examination called a polysomnogram has contributed to the diagnosis and treatment of many sleep disorders.—See the box below.
One of the most common causes of chronic insomnia among adults is related to snoring. If you have ever slept near someone who snores, you know that this can be extremely uncomfortable. Snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), in which the closure of the throat temporarily prevents a sleeper from sucking air into his lungs. Initial steps in treating OSAS include weight loss, avoidance of alcoholic beverages, and avoidance of muscle-relaxant drugs. Specialists may also prescribe specific medication *or the use of dental appliances or a continuous positive airway pressure machine.
In more severe cases, surgical correction of the throat, jaw, tongue, or nose may be necessary in order to make it easier for air to enter and leave during the breathing process.
Children can also suffer from insomnia. The signs of sleep deprivation may appear at school—poor scholastic achievement, irritation, lack of concentration—perhaps leading to a wrong diagnosis of hyperactivity.
Some children fight sleep, preferring to sing, talk, or listen to someone telling stories—anything instead of going to bed. This may just be a ruse to get parental attention. In some cases, however, a child may be afraid to sleep because of frequent nightmares related to horror movies, violent news programs, or quarreling in the home. By promoting a peaceful and loving atmosphere at home, parents can help to avoid these problems. Obviously, medical advice should be sought if symptoms persist. Without a doubt, a good night’s sleep is as important for children as it is for adults.
How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
For many centuries it has been known that a good night’s sleep does not happen by chance. Sleeping well depends on a series of factors beyond just controlling anxiety and stress. These are known collectively as sleep hygiene.
Effective sleep hygiene amounts to a way of life. It includes getting regular exercise at the right time of the day. Exercise during the morning or afternoon can help one to be drowsy at bedtime. But working out close to bedtime can interfere with sleep.
Exciting films or engrossing reading material can also have a stimulating effect. Before going to bed, it may be better to readsomething relaxing, listen to soothing music, or take a warm bath.
Experts say that you can teach your brain to associate bed with sleep by lying down only when you really mean to sleep. People who eat, study, work, watch TV, or play video games in bed may find it harder to fall asleep.
Preparing the body for restful sleep also involves watching your diet. While alcoholic drinks make a person feel drowsy, they can actually impair sleep quality. Coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, and cola-based drinks should be avoided at night because they are stimulants. On the other hand, small quantities of mango, sweet potato, banana, persimmon, palm cabbage, rice, bean sprouts, or nuts stimulate the production of serotonin and can thus be sleep-inducing. A word of warning: Eating a heavy meal late at night can be as harmful to sleep as going to bed on an empty stomach.
Just as important as our presleep routine is the environment in which we sleep. A pleasant temperature, a dark and noise-free room, and a comfortable mattress and pillows are an invitation to a good night’s sleep. In fact, with so much comfort, it may be hard to get up the next morning. But remember, staying in bed longer than necessary, even on the weekend, can disturb your sleep pattern and make it harder for you to sleep the following night.
Surely, you would not purposely harm any of your vital organs. Sleep is just as vital, a part of life that should not be neglected or underestimated. After all, a third of our life is spent sleeping. Can you improve your sleeping habits? Why not start tonight!
^ par. 3 Insomnia is the inability to enjoy normal and sufficient sleep.
^ par. 9 The patient sleeps with a small face mask that receives an airflow from a compressor via a flexible hose. This airflow keeps breathing passages open and allows the patient to breathe normally.
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THE PRINCIPAL CAUSES OF INSOMNIA
▪ MEDICAL: Alzheimer’s disease; apnea, closure of the upper air passage during sleep; restless legs syndrome; Parkinson’s disease; periodic limb movement disorder, movements accompanied by periods of awakening; asthma; heart and digestive diseases
▪ PSYCHIATRIC: depression, anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder
▪ ENVIRONMENTAL: light, noise, heat, cold, uncomfortable mattress, restless mate
▪ OTHER CAUSES: alcohol and drug abuse, side effects of some drugs
[Box on page 8]
DIAGNOSING SLEEP DISORDERS
A polysomnogram is a group of tests performed to map sleep while the patient is sleeping under the most normal conditions possible. The following are the basic elements necessary for an evaluation.
▪ Electroencephalogram—The tracing of electrical activity in the brain, used to classify and quantify the various stages of sleep.
▪ Electrooculogram—Records eye movements observed during REM sleep.
▪ Electromyogram—Used to monitor the tonus of chin and leg muscles during REM sleep.
▪ Electrocardiogram—Used to monitor heartbeat throughout the night.
▪ Respiratory airflow and movements—Measured by recording the flux of air through the nose and the mouth as well as the movement of the abdomen and the thorax.
▪ Oxyhemoglobin saturation—Measurement of the level of oxygen in the blood vessels determined by means of a device called an oximeter, attached to the patient’s finger.
[Box on page 9]
How likely are you to doze off in the situations mentioned below? Using the following scale, circle your answers, and then add up your total score.
0 Would never doze
1 Slight chance of dozing
2 Moderate chance of dozing
3 High chance of dozing
a Sitting and reading 0 1 2 3
b Watching TV 0 1 2 3
c Sitting inactive in a public place, such as 0 1 2 3
at the theater or a meeting
d As a car passenger for an hour without a break 0 1 2 3
e Sitting quietly after a lunch without alcohol 0 1 2 3
f Lying down to rest in the afternoon 0 1 2 3
g Sitting and talking to someone 0 1 2 3
h In a car, while stopped in traffic 0 1 2 3
1-6: No need to worry
7-8: Within the average
9 and over: Seek medical advice
Based on The Epworth Sleepiness Scale, by Stanford University, California, U.S.A.
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Sleep deprivation can be dangerous
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Exercise, reading, and a light snack may improve the quality of sleep