How to get the right rest, night after night
By Lisa Allen
There is a reason Shakespeare mentioned sleep in seven of his plays. It’s that important.
With adequate amounts, we can more easily navigate this crazy life. Without it, it’s hard to function, and we’re at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Even Maslow’s hierarchy of needs starts with staying warm, fed and rested.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve the quantity and quality of your nightly slumber.
Hilton Head psychologist Debi Lynes, Ph.D., has studied sleep throughout her career. She puts that knowledge to work helping others with her business, Freudian Slipcovers. She uses therapy and interior design to create a productive, yet peaceful life. She also hosts the local TV show, “Healthy Living.”
The basic tenet of her work is helping people motor through their lives, fueled by a nightly recharge.
“Everyone needs at least four hours of uninterrupted sleep a night,” Lynes said. “Beyond that, it varies by the person. Eight hours of sleep is a fallacy.”
While many of us suffer a restless night now and again, insomnia means one regularly has trouble falling or staying asleep or getting restful sleep if given the chance.
Insomnia isn’t just inconvenient. Chronic poor sleep may increase the likelihood of developing dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and even cancers of the breast, colon, ovaries and prostate, according to Johns Hopkins medical center. Poor sleep also can affect the ability to function while performing daily tasks like working or driving.
It can be caused by sleep apnea, diabetes, pain, anxiety or depression or by poor sleep habits. Is your bedroom quiet? Is it the right temperature for you? Do you sleep with restless pets or a snoring partner? Do you drink alcohol? (Really, drinking does NOT help you sleep. It’s just the opposite.)
“Your bed should only be used for one of two things: sleeping or snuggling,” Lynes said. “You have to train your brain that when you climb into bed, it’s a place for sleep and that your brain knows it can relax.”
Through her cognitive behavior therapy, Lynes teaches her clients that just because their mind makes noise and has certain thoughts and feelings, it doesn’t mean they have to act on them.
“If you think, ‘I had a bad day. I won’t be able to sleep.’ That’s not necessarily true,” she said. “You can settle your mind. Acknowledge those thoughts, but don’t dwell on them. Write them down or practice breathing exercises.”
Lynes helps her clients build a structured protocol to help them sleep. It’s known as sleep hygiene, which means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. She stresses that sleep medication is a short-term solution. There is no substitute for natural sleep.
Lynes emphasizes three things for a healthy life. “Mind, muscle, and mouth. Mind your mind, reduce your stress, exercise, and eat healthy food.”
And by all means, get some sleep.
How to improve your sleep
• Stimulus control. Keep your bedroom comfortable and quiet.
• Set a consistent time to sleep and wake up.
• Don’t lie in bed. If you aren’t asleep in 15 to 20 minutes, get up. In the morning when you wake up, get up. (“People think they’re getting rest if they stay in bed. That’s not true,” Lynes said.)
• Keep a sleep diary. That way you’ll be aware each day of your sleep and then you can see the patterns, either good or bad.
When you forget to breathe
Sleep apnea describes a condition in which one’s breathing stops and starts while they are asleep. It keeps them from getting proper sleep and can cause health problems such as heart or liver problems, and increase the likelihood of diabetes.
There are three causes of sleep apnea
• Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax
• Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
• Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea
• Loud snoring (not always a symptom)
• Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
• Gasping for air during sleep
• Awakening with a dry mouth
• Morning headache
• Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
• Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
• Difficulty paying attention while awake
Depending on one’s circumstances, treatment can include a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, a mouth appliance or surgery.Dr. Bonnie Rothwell of Rothwell Cosmetic Dentistry on Hilton Head can help solve obstructive sleep apnea.
“If you are diagnosed by your physician as having obstructive sleep apnea and you can’t tolerate a CPAP, we can fit you with a somnodent appliance. This fits like a mouth guard while you sleep and moves your jaw forward slightly, opening up your breathing passage. Once you’re fitted, we follow up with a sleep study to make sure the appliance is working like it should. If not, we can adjust it.”