“Sleep knits the raveled sleeve of care. The chief nourisher of life’s feast.”

— William Shakespeare

This just in. “Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that make you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?” (from “Why We Sleep,” by Matthew Walker, Ph.D., 2017)

Those who do not get adequate sleep suffer from a multitude of issues. Here are some key issues. Do you have the opportunity to sleep? Some folks have a couple jobs, crying kids, a noisy, bright environment and just cannot get the deep kind of restorative rest they need. Others have trouble initiating sleep, others maintaining sleep, others have trouble falling back asleep if they awake, and yet others with early wakening. Some suffer from sleep apnea, restless legs, muscle cramps, pain, or the need to get up frequently to use the toilet.

No matter what category of sleep problem, research has revealed a variety of negative effects of not getting a full night’s sleep, usually 7 to 8 hours for adults, and even more for children and adolescents.

Memory is consolidated during sleep so if you sleep less, you remember less. Mortality goes up with decreased sleep, not only from accidents due to micro-sleep while driving drowsy, but from increased infections. Sleep helps restore our immune systems. Increases in blood pressure, stress hormones, and atherosclerosis lead to more cardiovascular events and stroke in those with poor sleep patterns. Even Alzheimer’s rates increase.

Commonly prescribed sleeping pills may make you feel like you got a good night’s rest, but sophisticated sleep monitoring technology tells a different story. Those taking sleeping pills don’t sleep better than those on placebo. Their premature death risk rises progressively up to five times normal the more often they use these medications over a year.

If you or your kids sleep a lot on the weekends or other times off, it may be a sign of sleep deprivation and accumulated sleep debt. Some cases of ADHD may just be due to poor sleep in children. People consistently deprived of sleep in experiments or torture chambers can display all the signs and symptoms of mental disturbances: psychosis, anxiety, depression, and more.

If sleeping is so important to our health, what do we do if we cannot sleep well? A technique called CBT-I or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia has been documented as the safest, most effective method for inducing healthy sleep (https://sleepfoundation.org). CBT-I is so useful because a great deal of insomnia is psychological due to emotional concerns, worry, anxiety, and overactivity of the mind.

Additionally, sleep hygiene measures are highly useful. Regular bedtime and awaking, exercising no less than two hours before sleep, avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and large meals near bedtime, sun exposure during the day, avoiding late day naps, taking a hot bath, and a cool, dark bedroom are all helpful among others. For more, go to https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/summer12/articles/summer12pg20.html.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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