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Rest is Best: The ABCs of ZZZs

When Sarah Snyder, RN, MSN, FNP-C, at Marshall Family Medicine in Cameron Park, was in graduate school, one of her assignments was focused on sleep. “In addition to studying the importance of sleep, various sleep disorders, and treatments, we had to keep a journal for two weeks regarding how much sleep we got a night, nighttime awakening, barriers, and general sleep hygiene. While I considered myself a decent sleeper, it highlighted areas I needed to work on,” she says. “It can be very frustrating to get poor sleep, and daytime fatigue makes getting through the days more difficult. But just as getting exercise and maintaining a healthy diet are vital to our overall health, sleep is also just as important.”

Approximately one-third of our lives are spent sleeping, which has a tremendous ability to impact the other two-thirds spent awake pursuing our daily activities, says Sirisha Krishnamurthy, DDS, and CEO of NorCal Snore and Sleep Solutions Inc. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep is related to increased mortality related to accidents, injuries, and other health problems, Snyder says. “But despite its importance, many struggle to get sufficient sleep for various reasons,” she adds. “And while many of these barriers to optimal sleep can be addressed by creating healthy habits regarding sleep hygiene, some are harder to work around (i.e., shiftwork, fulfilling the role of caregiver, or awakening to use the restroom). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommends adults sleep at least seven hours per night—a tall task to meet on a regular basis for many of us.”

Sleep is an essential function that helps restore and replenish the body and mind, leading to a refreshed state of feeling when you wake up. “The benefits of adequate sleep include reduced overall body inflammation, reduced risk of diseases, improved memory and cognition, increased alertness, better mood and overall sense of well-being, and helping to promote healthy weight, metabolism, and overall growth,” Dr. Krishnamurthy says.

How can bad sleep impact your overall health? “Inadequate sleep may increase the risk of metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol); unhealthy weight gain; neurocognitive effects, like impaired memory and concentration; mood impairment, leading to anxiety and depression; excessive daytime sleepiness, which is one of the leading causes for motor vehicle accidents and workplace injuries; immunocompromised state, due to increased cortisol production; and decreased growth hormones secretion, which impacts overall growth, especially in kids,” Dr. Krishnamurthy says.


Poor sleep has also been linked to various adverse health effects such as cardiovascular disease and obesity. “One study even showed that the risk of heart attacks increased with sleeping less than six hours per night,” Snyder says. “Sleep is so vital to health that a whole specialty, sleep medicine, is focused on evaluating and treating the various disorders and concerns.”

Sleep-related disorders are generally underdiagnosed, as sleep habits aren’t openly discussed by many patients with their health care providers. “If you’re having issues with getting adequate sleep or don’t wake up feeling refreshed in spite of adequate sleep, please discuss your symptoms, such as snoring, choking and gasping for breath, inability to initiate sleep or maintain it, or morning headaches, with your health care provider for appropriate screening, testing, and treatment,” Dr. Krishnamurthy says.

Solid, consistent sleep hygiene measures can promote adequate sleep for mind and body wellness, Dr. Krishnamurthy says. While you will want to eat three or four hours prior to sleep, you’ll also want to avoid both alcohol and exercise three to four hours prior to sleep. Blue light (cell phones, TV, computers) should also be avoided two to three hours before sleep. Create a designated sleeping area with a comfortable mattress and no ambient light. “To avoid ruminating thoughts while in bed, go to sleep with a sense of gratitude of what went well in the day and a desire of what you would like to accomplish the following day,” Dr. Krishnamurthy says.

Snyder suggests maintaining a regular sleep routine and avoiding daytime naps, if possible. Drink caffeinated drinks, as well as alcohol, with caution to your typical bedtime. “Drinking a glass of wine before bed can make you feel sleepy, because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, but it has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration,” Snyder says.

If you’re struggling to get sufficient sleep, Snyder recommends keeping a journal and talking to your health care provider. “There are also some great podcasts that highlight the importance of sleep and can act as a motivator to want to address your own sleep concerns,” she says. “Treating your problems with over-the-counter medications, such as NyQuil or Benadryl, without talking to your provider, can be dangerous, especially when taken long-term.”

Dr. Robert Dias, a neurologist and sleep specialist with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group, says to ensure adequate rest, seven or more hours of sleep per night is a health necessity for adults. The better you sleep, the better your memory, attention, mood, metabolism, and immune system will be. “Maintain a regular sleep schedule with a consistent wake-up time to help reduce the risk of insomnia,” he says. “If you persistently experience non-restorative sleep, in spite of an adequate sleep opportunity where you awaken unrefreshed, discuss further evaluation and testing for a possible disorder, such as sleep apnea, with your health care provider.” Finally, Dr. Dias warns to never get behind the wheel if you’re tired. “Avoidance of drowsy driving is an important safety precaution.”

by Kourtney Jason
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