Could lack of sleep Contribute to your Health Problems?

Sleep Disorders

Sleep Disorders

( — How did you sleep last night? As a Black American, chances are you probably didn’t get enough.

It’s already a well known fact that African Americans suffer disproportionately from just about all major diseases and chronic health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and heart disease. But could a lack of sleep be a contributing factor in these disparities?

In the first poll to examine sleep among different ethnic groups, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recently revealed that while Black participants understood the importance of sleep, they were still more likely to have trouble sleeping.

“As the leading voice of sleep health, we are committed to better understanding people’s sleep needs,” says David Cloud, CEO of the NSF. “By exploring ethnic and family sleep practices we have gained new insight into why we sleep the way we do.”

Blacks also reported a belief that they needed less sleep than the recommended average of 8 to 9 hours each night (most believed that 7 hours of sleep each night could help them perform their best each day).

“The finding that Blacks/African-Americans say they need less sleep and get less sleep is instructive for public health professionals,” says Jose S. Loredo, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. “Their total sleep time and attitudes regarding sleep may be associated with Blacks/African-Americans’ higher rates of sleep apnea, hypertension and diabetes and provide sleep-related insight into how to improve awareness and education programs and, very importantly, how to improve therapy compliance rates.”

Just Why Is Sleep So Vital?

Think of all the things you do in an average day: the working, the working out, the chores, the caring for children, the thinking about all the millions of things you have to do the next day.

“What many people don’t understand about sleep is that it’s not unconsciousness; it’s a very complicated series of essential events,” says Seth Horowitz, Assistant Research professor of  neuroscience and psychology at Brown University and co-creator of RealSleep, an innovative CD that actually helps you go to sleep and stay asleep longer without the need for medication. “Sleep’s many functions include restoring, healing wounds, consolidating material, so many things.”

In other words, sleep acts as a finger, pushing the reset button that controls just about all the functions of your body, making it one of the most important keys in overall health.

So, What’s Keeping You Awake?

For most people, getting enough sleep is a challenge. Again, there are just so many things to think about — and all those typical issues that exhaust you throughout your day also have the ironic power of keeping you up at night.

Of course, you know when you’re not getting enough sleep. Since it affects so many aspects of your body, there are a variety of affects, including feeling sleepy all throughout your day and poor memory.

“Technically, there are 70 different types of sleep disorders, and 40 million Americans have them,” says Horowitz. From sleep apnea (a change in breathing patterns that can close off your breathing airways while you sleep) to general insomnia (the inability to get a full night of sleep), sleep is a problem for many Americans in general.

But sleep problems seem to be just part of the story. The NSF has reported that poor sleep behavior also contributes to sleep difficulties. African Americans in particular are the most likely group to perform activities in the hour before going to bed every night or almost every night, specifically watching TV and praying/other religious practices. Whether on workdays and weekends, African-Americans spend much more time in bed without sleeping than the other ethnic groups. In addition, African-Americans report losing sleep every night over personal financial concerns and employment concerns at a higher rate.

“The hour before bed is an important time to relax and wind-down before going to sleep,” says Thomas J. Balkin, Ph.D., Chairman of the National Sleep Foundation. “For those who are having problems sleeping, it’s a good idea to consider whether your bedtime routines may be too alerting.”

How Do You Get The Sleep You Need?

Yes, there are so many things to do, and only so much time to do it all, you’re worried about finances or other aspects of your life, and/or you may suffer from a diagnosable sleep disorder. But without proper rest, you’re just setting yourself up for more problems (and potentially even more nights without enough sleep).

“People need to learn how to make a personal commitment to sleeping,” says David Lavietes, the CMO for RealSleep.

To Hold On To More Sweet Dreams:

• Save your worries for the daytime. If concerns come to mind, write them in a “worry book” so you can address those issues the next day.

• Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake at the same time every day, and avoid spending more time in bed than needed.

• Select a relaxing bedtime ritual and relaxing techniques. Focus on calming activities and thoughts, particularly an hour before your bedtime, like a warm bath or listening to calming music.

• Prepare your bedroom for sleep. Create an environment that is conducive to sleep that is quiet, dark and cool with a comfortable mattress and pillows.

• Stop making your bedroom an all-purpose space. Use your bedroom only for sleep to strengthen the association between your bed and sleep. It may help to remove work materials, computers and televisions from your bedroom. If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired.

• Enjoy a carbohydrate-rich dinner or snack, as well as a cup of herbal tea. Carbs can stave off hunger, a known sleep robber. A study found that when healthy sleepers ate carbohydrate-rich suppers of veggies and tomato sauce over rice, they fell asleep significantly faster at bedtime. Also, some experts say that herbal teas, while not scientifically proven, may make you sleepy by generating body heat. Chamomile, lemon balm, hops and passionflower are all touted for their sleep-promoting properties.

• Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and (believe it or not) milk. Caffeine affects everyone differently, so if you’re sensitive it might be worth trying to cut down—or limit caffeine to the morning only.

Also, though a glass of wine may help you fall asleep, excessive alcohol use can make you wake up in the night. One theory is that alcohol suppresses the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep state that’s critical to a good night’s sleep. Drink moderately, if at all; avoid drinking within a few hours of bedtime.

“What about a warm glass of milk!?” Well, decades ago, scientists looked into this folk remedy and posited that tryptophan, an amino acid in milk (and turkey), might be responsible for its supposed sleep-inducing effect. But in recent tests, they failed to affect sleep patterns, perhaps because other amino acids in those foods competed with tryptophan to get into the brain. Warm milk at bedtime may be comforting, but it won’t boost sleep-promoting serotonin.

• Try alternative sleep technologies, such as RealSleep. Remember that kind of groggy, sleepy sensation you get when you’re on a bus, train or are the passenger in a car? RealSleep is a CD
that helps you sleep by triggering that same sleepy sensation. It uses three kinds of nearly-inaudible sounds embedded in music to help induce a natural state of sleep, and has been extremely affective in clinical trials. “Sound can drive so much,” says Seth Horowitz. “If you’re really stressed and trying to get to sleep, this will help you.”

• Exercise regularly. But avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime.

• Talk to your doctor. Of course, if you find that nothing is helping you, or you have questions or concerns, speak to a doctor or sleep professional.