Monday, December 18, 2006

Do You Have a Sleep Debt?

If you have trouble sleeping, you may be accumulating a debt that is difficult to pay back - a sleep debt. According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 6 out of 10 people in the United States suffers from problems getting a restful night of sleep.

There are many kinds of sleep disorders, including:

Insomnia. Poor quality sleep may result from inability to fall asleep, waking up frequently, waking up and being unable to return to sleep, or some combination. Females are affected more than males.

Lifestyle-related. A hectic and stressful lifestyle, work demands and over-active social lives can lead to accumulation of sleep debt. Even the use of an alarm clock can trigger more and more debt.

Sleep apnea. Obstructed or blocked air passages lead to loud snoring and cessation of breathing while asleep. This leads to sleep deprivation and daytime drowsiness.

Due to the prevalence of sleep-related disorders in our society, the usage of prescription sleeping pills is on the rise. But these medications carry their own risks: drug carryover into the daytime leading to drowsiness, psychological dependence, physical side effects including anxiety and memory problems, and potential drug interactions. And their long-term use is controversial.

Although sometimes prescription sleep aids are necessary, there are many other simple and easy-to-implement strategies to help sleep better:

1) Don't engage in mentally stimulating activities prior to bedtime.
2) Keep your bedroom as dark as possible - this helps regulate the hormone responsible for sleeping and waking.
3) Keep pets out of the bedroom.
4) Eat a light snack before bed, preferably one with protein.
5) Exercise daily.
6) Keep a regular schedule of sleeping and waking.
7) Have yourself checked for depression - it is a common cause of sleep disturbance.
8) Avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially within 6 hours of bedtime.
9) Don't take naps during the day.
10) Quit drinking fluids 2 hours before bedtime to reduce your chance of having to get up to go to the bathroom.

Large amounts of accumulated sleep debt can be a serious problem. For example, driving can place both you and other people at risk. Frighteningly, a 2002 National Sleep Foundation poll found that 14 million people reported actually falling asleep at the wheel during the last year.

If you have been having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about your condition and your options. Besides depression, many other potentially serious health disorders may be causing your sleeping difficulties. Don't ignore this debt until it becomes too late to repay.