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Sleepless in America – Dr. Charles J. Abate

By Charles J. Abate, MD FCCP | Pulmonary, Critical Care, Internal Medicine & Sleep Medicine

It is estimated that nearly 70 million US adults have a sleep disorder, the majority of which remain undiagnosed. Sleep problems such as sleep apnea and insomnia can predispose individuals to many medical conditions including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression.  In addition, it has been shown that most people report an average of 2 nights per week of insufficient sleep and almost 40% of Americans get 6 hours of sleep or less per day.

There is no better time to make sleep a priority then during National Sleep Awareness Week which takes place this year from March 2 to 8. This annual education and awareness campaign, spearheaded by the National Sleep Foundation, was developed to help the public, healthcare providers, and policymakers better understand the benefits of good sleep habits and the importance of identifying the signs of a sleep disorder. The end of National Sleep Awareness Week coincides with the beginning of Daylight Saving Time which causes us to lose an hour of sleep. It is on this day that the effects of insufficient sleep are often felt, however it is important to realize that sleep deprivation may be affecting us all year long.

Research shows that adequate sleep is key to a healthy lifestyle and even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, mood, memory, cognitive capacity and productivity.   Unfortunately, sleep deprivation has become a fact of life for many adults and children. Sleep is one of the first things we are willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives keep rising. The National Sleep Foundation‘s 2014 Sleep in America poll examined sleep in the modern American family. The results indicate that despite an understanding of the importance of sleep to health and well being, neither children nor their parents are getting enough quality sleep. This is in part due to the heavy evening activities and commitments. The survey also illustrated that a majority of adults and children are sleeping in proximity to at least one or more electronic devices including televisions, computers, tablets, and smart phones. Artificial light exposure emitted from these devices between dusk and the time we go to bed at night disrupts sleep cycles and suppresses the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.

Better sleep can be achieved through changes to our lifestyle. Some tips to get better sleep include:

  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule for sleeping at the same time each day of the week including weekends.
  • Prior to sleep, limit any stimulating activities such as exercise and work. Perform activities that you may find relaxing such as reading.
  • Create an optimal sleep environment. The bedroom should be dark, well ventilated, and free from distractions such as TVs and computers.
  • A healthy lifestyle consisting of exercise and a healthy diet can contribute towards better sleep. Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine close to bed time.