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Make a Sleep Plan for the New Year
January 1, 2019
The new year is here which means it’s a great time for planning new projects. You might plan a new exercise and diet routine, but it’s also a fabulous time to get some rest. When we get busy (like when am I not busy?) it’s easy to steal time from the hours we should be sleeping.
Adequate and timely sleep is a foundation of health that is often neglected. Optimally, we need about eight hours of sleep per night. However, sleep times in America have decreased from more than eight hours in the 1960s to about 6.5 hours in 2012. Up to 30 percent of middle-aged Americans sleep less than six hours a night. We often exchange sleep for other activities such as commuting, leisure activities, and work-related activities.
But when we sleep also matters. The suprachiasmatic nucleus, a group of cells in the centers of our brains, regulates the sleep cycle over a 24-hour period. This sleep clock is set by the light-dark cycle that we experience over the 24 hours. Sleep type can be divided into REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. The earlier hours of the evening, say, before 1 a.m., are particularly rich in the capacity for non-REM sleep that allows for the deep, restorative delta-wave sleep. We cycle through light sleep and deep sleep within a non-REM cycle, and it takes about 90 minutes to go through one non-REM cycle. We want to go through several of these cycles in a night of sleep. As the early morning hours progress, sleep gradually transitions into predominantly REM sleep. The point is that if you usually go to bed after midnight, you may be missing out on most of your deep sleep, even if you sleep into the late morning. This can lead to chronic feelings of tiredness. Non-REM sleep can be picked up again after about 5 p.m.
Lack of adequate sleep not only can make you susceptible to trending seasonal bugs but can raise your risk of diabetes and obesity. Chronic sleep deprivation decreases insulin sensitivity, increases the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and increases abdominal fat accumulation. Inadequate or poor sleep has been linked to hypertension and increased mortality. Abnormal sleep habits may also play a role in a variety of gastrointestinal disorders including inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer.
Here are a few more tips for obtaining better sleep:
•Sleep in a dark room.
•Use your bed only for sleep (no work or TV).
•Get regular exercise, but not immediately before bedtime.
•Have regular times for sleeping and waking.
•Avoid heavy evening meals or eating within several hours of bedtime.
•Avoid caffeine or alcohol.
I really hope your new year projects are successful, but make time for what is really important—like sleep.
Margaret Song, M.D., M.P.H.
Dr. Margaret Song is Board-Certified in Internal Medicine. She also studied Preventive Medicine at Loma Linda University and holds a Masters of Public Health in Epidemiology. She is currently serving as an internal medicine specialist with Riverside Medical Clinic in Riverside, California. Her office is at 6405 Day Street in Riverside and she can be reached at 951-697-5420.