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How is your sleeping? The importance of sleep.

Dr. Greg Allen, Ph.D., LMFT, Special to the News |

Sleep is essential for a person’s health and well-being, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Yet millions of people do not get enough sleep, and many suffer from lack of sleep. For example, surveys conducted by the NSF reveal that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Most of those with these problems go undiagnosed and untreated. In addition, more than 40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each month — with 20 percent reporting problem sleepiness a few days a week or more. Furthermore, 69 percent of children experience one or more sleep problems a few nights or more during a week.

Amount of sleep needed

Everyone’s individual sleep needs vary. In general, most healthy adults are built for 16 hours of wakefulness and need an average of eight hours of sleep a night. However, some individuals are able to function without sleepiness or drowsiness after as little as six hours of sleep. Others can’t perform at their peak unless they’ve slept ten hours. And, contrary to common myth, the need for sleep doesn’t decline with age but the ability to sleep for six to eight hours at one time may be reduced, according to a 2000 study by Van Dongen and Dinges.

Teenagers, sleep problems and drugs

According to a long-term study published in the 2004 April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, young teenagers whose preschool sleep habits were poor were more than twice as likely to use drugs, tobacco or alcohol. This finding was made by the University of Michigan Health System as part of a family health study that followed boys and their parents for 10 years. The study found a significant connection between sleep problems in children and later drug use, even when other issues such as depression, aggression, attention problems and parental alcoholism were taken into account.


How does alcohol affect sleep quality?

At all dosages, alcohol:

1. Makes you fall asleep quicker
2. Causes deeper sleep in the first half of the night
3. Causes more disrupted sleep in the second half of the night
4. Increases the amount of slow wave sleep achieved during the first half of the night. During slow wave sleep, the body repairs tissue, strengthens the immune system and builds bone and muscle.
5. Causes deeper sleep in the first part of the night, which can increase problems with sleep apnea and sleepwalking, among people susceptible to these problems
6. Cause a reduction in total REM sleep, which leads to a non-restful night’s rest as well as memory and motor problems and impaired concentration abilities


How to get a good night’s sleep:

According to sleep researchers, a night’s sleep is divided into five continually shifting stages, defined by types of brain waves that reflect either lighter or deeper sleep. Toward morning, there is an increase in rapid eye movement, or REM sleep, when the muscles are relaxed and dreaming occurs, and recent memories may be consolidated in the brain. The experts say that hitting a snooze alarm over and over again to wake up is not the best way to feel rested. This on and off again effect of dozing and waking causes shifts in the brain-wave patterns. Sleep-deprived snooze-button addicts are likely to shorten their quota of REM sleep, impairing their mental functioning during the day, according to a 2004 New York Times article.

According to leading sleep researchers, here are techniques to combat common sleep problems:

1. Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule.
2. Don’t drink or eat caffeine four to six hours before bed and minimize daytime use.
3. Don’t smoke, especially near bedtime or if you awake in the night.
4. Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before sleep.
5. Get regular exercise.
6. Minimize noise, light and excessive hot and cold temperatures where you sleep.
7. Develop a regular bed time and go to bed at the same time each night.
8. Try and wake up without an alarm clock.
9. Attempt to go to bed earlier every night for certain period; this will ensure that you’re getting enough sleep.


I hope you sleep well.

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