"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Sleep? Who needs it? You do

By on February 25, 2020 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

If a researcher or drug company came out with a new drug that would boost your immune system, decrease your risk of getting cancer by half, lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure as well as reducing your risk of having a highway fatality, it would be a best seller. 

If it were free of charge, everyone would be clamoring to get this miracle drug. 

This miracle drug is currently readily available and is free to everyone. It is called adequate sleep — if done for seven to eight hours every night. 

Unfortunately, two thirds of the world’s adults in all developed nations fail to obtain this recommended goal of sleep. 

More than 20 large-scale epidemiological studies show the shorter your sleep the shorter will be your life span. The World Health Organization has now declared a sleep-loss epidemic throughout industrialized nations.

The leading causes of disease and death in developed countries include heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes and cancer — all have a causal relationship to lack of sleep. 

Unhealthy sleep equals an unhealthy heart. Adults 45 and over who sleep less than six hours at night have a 200 percent more likelihood of heart attack or stroke in their lifetime than those sleeping seven to eight hours nightly. 

As for obesity, the less one sleeps the more they eat, especially sugary foods. This increases the probability of being overweight or obese, leading to acquiring chronic disease. 

Chronic sleep deprivation is now recognized as a major contributor to type 2 diabetes worldwide. When your sleep is short you gain weight. 

Many people take an alcoholic “nightcap” thinking it will help them sleep. This is far from the truth. 

Alcohol is in the class of sedatives and does not induce natural sleep. Alcohol fragments sleep with brief awakenings and also is a powerful suppressor of our important REM sleep.

Sleep improves multiple functions of the brain including learning, memorization and logical decision-making. 

Research shows sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brains and improve our health each day. 

We all have a circadian rhythm that helps us sleep by activating many of our brain’s mechanisms at night including lowering our body core temperature aiding our sleep. 

In addition, the tiny lineal gland deep in our brain releases melatonin to alert our brain it is dark and time to sleep. 

Melatonin itself does not put us to sleep. Melatonin pills are not a powerful sleeping aid, as often advertised and used by many. Studies of many melatonin pills showed they actually contained little melatonin, suggesting they may have more of a placebo effect. 

At dawn, as sunlight enters our brain through our eyes even when they are closed, shutting off the production of our melatonin tells our brain the end of sleep has been reached.

Most of us use coffee containing caffeine, which helps us feel more alert. Caffeine is the most used psychoactive stimulant in the world and the most traded commodity on the planet after oil. 

The down side of coffee is if you have a cup or two with or after your evening meal around 6 p.m., 50 percent is still active and circulating through your brain at midnight. 

The older we are the longer it takes our brain and body to remove caffeine, further disrupting our sleep.

How do we know if we are getting enough sleep? 

When you awake in the morning could you fall back for to sleep for two to four more hours? If you can, you are not getting adequate sleep. 

Can you function optimally without caffeine before noon? If you cannot, you probably have chronic sleep deprivation. 

If you didn’t set an alarm clock, would you sleep past that time? 

If you are sleep deprived, you should not use sleeping pills as your first option. 

No sleeping pills currently on the market induce natural sleep. Some sedate you rather than assisting sleep. 

Natural deep sleep helps us make new memories. Many sleeping pills actually erase recent memories. 

In the early 2000s, sleeping pill usage was on the increase. A large epidemiological study showed individuals using sleeping pills were more likely to die across the study period of several years compared to those not taking sleeping pills. 

The study matched two groups of individuals of similar age, race, gender, body mass index, exercise history, smoking and drinking history. In the two-and-a-half years of the study, sleeping pill users were four times more likely to die than those not taking sleeping pills. 

Even occasional sleeping pill users had a higher death rate in 15 other sleeping pill studies. 

Sleeping pill use has also been associated with an increase in fatal car accidents as well as a higher risk of falls, especially in the elderly.

As we age, sleep is more problematic and disordered in adults. 

Some have suggested older adults don’t need as much sleep as when we were young. That is a myth. 

We older adults have a more difficult time of generating our necessary sleep. In our 40s, we get fewer hours of deep sleep than in our youth, and by age 70 we have lost 80 percent of our youthful deep sleep. 

Most seniors are not aware of their loss of deep sleep. 

The older we get the more frequently we are awake during the night, reducing our sleep efficiency, which is the percent of the time we are sleeping compared to the time spent in bed yet not sleeping. 

The lower our sleep efficiency the higher our mortality rate, the worse is our health, the greater is our likelihood of depression, the lower our energy and the increase in forgetfulness. 

For families observing their elder family members, they frequently assume their forgetfulness is due to the onset of dementia whereas it is very possible it is due to sleep deprivation. 

These sleep issues in older adults increases the risk of falls and breaking bones, especially at night.

To make matters worse, older adults have an earlier release of their brains melatonin, pushing them to fall asleep in the evening while watching television or reading in a reclining chair. This early snooze is often followed by a hard time sleeping once they do go to bed. 

Older adults also tend to awaken early in the morning when falling back to sleep is difficult or even impossible.

I am convinced from everything I have ever studied about health and maintaining our health, adequate sleep — seven to eight hours a night — is vital and pays big dividends in our health and longevity. 

Sleep well, you won’t regret it.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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