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Habits That Help and Hurt Sleep

Habits That Help and Hurt Sleep

The Danger of Sleep Deprivation


Not getting enough sleep can have a definite impact on your life. Whether it's from insomnia, sleep apnea, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), or another sleep disorder, the danger of sleep deprivation is undeniable, manifesting in both minor and major ways and creating problems for your work, school, and day-to-day activities.


Your body requires a certain amount of sleep in order to function properly and if it doesn't get enough, it will naturally try to find ways to reconcile the problem. For many, a solution isn't always easy to find.


Many people don't even recognize they have a problem to begin with, failing to note the subtle symptoms and then, not taking the time to investigate the possible causes.  If your body doesn't get a sufficient amount of sleep, the effects can begin with fatigue and overall drowsiness.


You may feel tired during the day, which could ultimately impact your physical and mental health. For older people, sleep deprivation typically means that restorative sleep is lacking so their bodies aren't recharging properly for the next day. This pattern accumulates until it becomes a true medical condition that requires attention.


Another physical effect that a lack of sleep can result in is weight change - in particular, weight gain.  One of the benefits of quality sleep is that your hormone levels are regulated.


But if you suffer from sleep deprivation, then your hormone levels grow to be imbalanced and as a result, some of your psychological processes - such as appetite - also change. You may feel hungry when you're not - or in some cases, not full when you are.


Chronic sleeplessness can also lead to depression, irritability, and impatience.  Unfortunately, emotional frustration is one symptom that people may feel they don't need to address.


Some may even fail to see how their mood swings and emotional outbursts or breakdowns are linked to sleep, choosing to assign the blame elsewhere and focusing attention away from the real cause: a lack of sleep.


The dangers of sleep deprivation to one's physical and emotional well-being range from slurred speech and anger to a slow breakdown of the body's immune system, making you susceptible to injury, the common cold, and more.


Have you ever driven your car while drowsy?  The inherent danger is obvious. And while it may be a dramatic example, it's also one that's all too common - a powerful illustration of how important it is to get enough sleep.


Proper sleep is a vital component to being healthy and it needs to be treated with the same concern and care that your other healthcare issues receive. The consequences of ignoring your sleep deprivation could be harmful to yourself or another person, depending on the circumstances.  


5 Habits of Sleep Pros


At times, it can seem like everyone on Earth is getting plenty of sleep - but you.  Some people have what it takes to drink two cups of coffee and still go in their room for a nice little nap, while you struggle to nod off after 48 hours of sleep deprivation - how do they do it?


Sleep pros know there are five habits they have that you might not.  This is the competitive edge they use to get plenty of rest each night.  If your sleep deprivation isn't due to a medical condition, try implementing these tactics into your everyday routine to see if it helps you get your Zs.


Sleep Pro Habit #1: Stick to a Schedule!  If you're trying to go to bed at 8 PM one night and 2 AM the next, your poor body can't get on a steady cycle of sleep.  It needs a routine so that it can differentiate between daytime tasks and nighttime rest.


Sleep pros who get in bed at the same time each night and wake up on schedule each morning program their bodies to relax, like a science!  If you want to include naps in your schedule, make sure they're at the same time each day, too.  Just be aware that naps can impede your nighttime sleep if they're too long.


Sleep Pro Habit #2: Just Say "No" to Stimulants!  You might recognize you have trouble sleeping, but don't even think that 24-ounce Coca Cola you had at 9 PM could be the cause. 


Caffeine, as well as other stimulants like electronic gadgets (video games, Television, and the Internet) can all contribute to your sleeplessness.  Avoid products like alcohol, tobacco, chocolate, and sodas during the evening hours - save them for the daytime when you're telling your body it's okay to be alert and awake.


Sleep Pro Habit #3: Move Your Body Toward Sleep!  Exercise may be the medicine you need to engage in a deep slumber tonight.  Insomnia occurs less frequently in those who exercise on a regular basis for at least 20-30 minutes a day.


You don't want to exercise near bedtime, but in the morning or afternoon instead.  Studies have shown that many sedentary individuals who suffered from insomnia found their sleep disorder disappeared once they began an exercise regimen. 


When you exercise, you're relieving tension and increasing your body's production of endorphins.  You don't have to exercise vigorously - a moderate walk is enough to aid you in your quest for sleep.


Sleep Pro Habit #4: No Napping!  Just as eating in between meals ruins your appetite, napping between deep sleep can prevent many sleep disorder sufferers from being able to fall asleep and get a full night's rest.


For some, a nap is just the medicine they need to re-energize for the day, but if you're suffering from sleep deprivation, a nap may cause more harm than good.  Even though in the beginning you may feel extremely sleepy, try to save your slumber for the middle of the night and not for a mid-day luxury.


Sleep Pro Habit #5: Don't Go Back for Seconds!  It's a Thanksgiving ritual for many - stuff yourself so full you have no choice but to waddle down the hall and flop into bed for a nap.


But eating too much - especially near bedtime - can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.  Being overly stuffed with food can make sleeping uncomfortable, and if you're one of the unlucky ones to suffer from indigestion, it can be a painful experience, too.  Instead, eat just enough to quell your hunger and go to bed satisfied, but not distressed.


Not every sleep pro solution will work for everyone.  The key is to find what works for you.  Make lifestyle changes, keep records of your sleep quality, and seek out help from your doctor if signs and symptoms worsen.


Using White Noise to Mask Sleep Interruptions


If you have difficulty getting to sleep and are easily disturbed, you may want to consider using white noise to help mask noise that seeps into your resting place. This type of sleep therapy is known to help people who are awakened by peripheral noise, such as traffic from the street or a noisy neighbor.


White noise can help mask these other noises so that you can sleep through them, ideally enabling you to achieve a more restful slumber and the benefits that come with it.  White noise is also useful for those who have trouble sleeping when it's "too quiet."


What is white noise?  It's not simply soft ocean waves or the soothing sounds of the autumn wind blowing through the trees.  Technically, it includes all sound frequencies within the range of human hearing combined.


It's similar to the color white being produced from a combination of all other colors, which may be why they call it white noise. The "noise" is random, meaning it doesn't have rhyme or reason unless it's manipulated.


It doesn't follow a pattern like normal sound does. Rather, it's mixed up and in constant transformation, creating the "swooshing" effect that our ears absorb.  According to experts, the reason why white noise is so soothing is because the masking effect produced covers all other sounds - from high to low pitches.


If your sleep is being disturbed by a dog barking outside, white noise theoretically can help muffle, mask, or cancel-out that sound. On a whole, white noise sounds relatively high-pitched to us (though at a "hum").


The reason why it doesn't keep us awake is because the noise essentially overloads our auditory systems and for most of us, provides a distraction from competing sounds. It prevents us from zeroing in on any one sound, so we simply become "numb" to them all.


While we may think of white noise as being tranquil sounds from nature, it's actually closer to the sound a fan makes. Pure white noise can be "tuned" to more closely resemble these soothing, familiar sounds.


An ocean wave gently rolling onto shore or a light rain against the windowpane are sounds now easily found on white-noise CDs that are sold in stores, which also holds the advantage of volume control and repetition. Set your CD on repeat and let the white noise help you sleep through the night.


Other forms of white noise include a ceiling or box fan, static from a radio or a furnace or air conditioner with a low hum.  There are also actual white-noise or sound-conditioning machines, which serve a specific purpose of helping you find the sleep you crave.


Some white noise CDs contain a number of different "scenes" to choose from. All are composed to create an oasis of relaxation and ultimately promote sleep. Find the one that best lulls you to sleep and end those days of feeling tired, drowsy, and irritable.


Will a Sleep Diary Give You Answers?


Whether you're part of an official sleep study or you just want answers for yourself, one tool that will help you find the sleep that's eluding you is a sleep diary.  One of the most frustrating issues of having a sleep disorder is the not knowing why it's happening to you.


A sleep diary can help you pinpoint the reasons you're not getting enough rest at night.  There is no exact right or wrong sleep pattern, but having a diary that chronicles your clumber will help you see when (and why) your sleep schedule is making you feel deprived.


When you're suffering from sleep disorders, your mind may not function as clearly as it does when you are getting enough sleep.  A diary will help you remember the details of why you woke up, or what caused you to have trouble falling asleep.


You'll need to record certain elements about your sleep, not just whether or not you got any.  You'll want to jot down your pre-slumber routine - were you watching Prison Break or cleaning house right before bed or did you have a fat-laden, high-caffeine meal 20 minutes before you got into bed?


Your diary can reveal habits you haven't picked up on.  It doesn't have to be anything fancy. A simple piece of paper with grids can be all you need to create a record of your sleep.  You don't even need to be exact with timelines - if you know you went to bed around 10 PM, write it down - don't worry if it was 9:55 PM or 10:12 PM.


Keep track of the times you wake up and what made you wake up.  Did you get out of bed when you woke up?  What did you do?  When were you able to go back to sleep?  All of these answers help the sleep study clinic (or you) hone in on what you're doing right or wrong.


Try to keep a record of when you went to bed and woke up, how often (and for how long) you woke up during the night, what medications you were on, what you ate, any naps you took during the day, and when you felt drowsy versus when you were alert and awake.


Note to yourself whether you felt refreshed or fatigued when you woke up the next morning.  Keep track of what you consumed during the day - caffeine, medications, food, etc.  At different times of the day, try to note how you feel - energetic or exhausted?


Go over your sleep diary and see what changes you can make in your lifestyle habits to help alleviate your sleep disorder.  If you don't see anything apparent to your knowledge, then take the sleep diary to a doctor and have him or her read through it to see if a professionally-trained medical professional can find the issues you need to address. 


Still Can't Sleep?


Sometimes you try your hardest to address our sleep issues on your own.  You go to bed on time every night, eliminate caffeine, try hypnosis, and even get a prescription - but sleep isn't in your repertoire. 


If this happens, you need the help of professionals who can help you get to the root of the problem and diagnose your sleep disorder so that you can find a solution that will work for you.


A sleep study may or may not be covered in part (or fully) by your insurance provider - because some consider it elective participation, even if your lack of sleep is causing medical issues.  Check with your insurance company to see what kind of coverage they offer for sleep disorder studies. 


Most sleep studies are performed at a sleep study center, but some companies will come to your home and set up monitors in-house so that you stay in a sleep setting that's normal for you. You'll be hooked up to some wires so they can monitor your sleep and you'll relax and hopefully fall asleep so they can capture the data they need. 


They'll be conducting a PSG (Polysomnogram) where they record the physiological data while you sleep.  This includes an EEG (electroencephalogram), EOG (electrooculography), EMG (electromyography), EKG (electrocardiogram), as well as your respiratory patterns, limb movements, and other variables.


When you go, you'll be asked to bring two-piece pajamas so they can easily hook up the electrodes.  You won't be able to wear any hair products such as conditioner, hairspray, or gel. 


They'll probably ask you to not drink caffeine after noon and bring your usual medications with you.  Most sleep study centers allow you t bring entertainment materials like books or magazines as well as your favorite pillow.


If you're having the sleep study done on a weeknight and have to go straight to work the next day, make sure you ask whether or not the center has showers for you to get ready.  Some don't, but you'll be out early enough to have time to go home and get ready for your workday.


After your night's sleep, the sleep study will have a professional analyze the data and forward your results to your doctor.  They'll take note of your brain waves, heart rhythms, eye and leg movement, and oxygen levels.


The doctors will be looking at what makes you sleepy, how long it takes you to fall into a deep sleep, and what causes you to awaken during the night.  Armed with this information, you and your physician can make a decision about the course of treatment that best suits your situation. 

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