When I was in high school, I fell asleep while driving. Three times. The worst incident left me stuck on a median with two blown tires after narrowly dodging a light pole.
Sleep is very important, and it’s apparent in cases like that one, but we tend to neglect it pretty regularly in our everyday lives. The consequences may not be quite as dramatic as a car wreck, but they have serious implications on long-term health, livelihood and happiness.
“Our society does not value sleep,” said Dr. Julie Keiser, the founder of Worthington Optimal Wellness, which provides chiropractic and sleep treatments. “We’re starting to get better about valuing exercise, and people will go out there and be fiends about exercise but scoff at the notion that they are supposed to get eight hours of sleep. It’s like we’re all supposed to be titans and work constantly.”
Contrary to that notion, the insomnia that often springs from a culture of constant productivity actually costs American businesses money—to the tune of $63.2 billion per year, according to the “American Insomnia Study.”
But beyond business, sleep is essential to our ability to function. It serves as a way for our bodies to repair on a cellular level and for our minds to relax without stress. Everyone is familiar with the mild effects of sleep loss—lack of energy, lethargy, trouble concentrating and headaches—but if problems continue, it can lead to much more critical concerns, like weight gain, depression and changes in metabolism, as well as increased risk of stroke, heart attack and maybe even cancer.
The most common sleep disorder is insomnia. Trouble falling asleep is often the cause, which can stem from noise (including a partner’s snoring), stress, poor posture, spinal alignment problems and especially light, which prevents the body from releasing the necessary levels of melatonin to produce deep sleep. However, when people have problems waking frequently throughout the night, it often points to hormonal issues, according to Keiser, and they should seek a medical consultation.
The best news is that there are relatively easy fixes. First and foremost, the bedroom needs to be dark—in addition to being cool and quiet—but Keiser also recommended turning off all electronics, including cell phones, at least an hour before bed. Invest in a high-quality mattress and pillow—memory foam is generally good—and sleep on either your side or your back, not your stomach.
Chamomile tea can provide a natural relaxant, and The OSU Sleep Disorders Center advocates refraining from caffeine for eight hours before bed, keeping a regular sleep schedule, creating a bedtime routine and using the bedroom only for sleeping and sex, i.e. no working, eating or TV. The biggest single solution, though, is cardio exercise.
“You are gonna see much more profound, deep, restful sleep if you exercise, period, end of story,” Keiser said.
If the simple solutions don’t work, she suggested an assessment from a professional. At Worthington Optimal Wellness that means a one-on-one consultation to determine the root causes of sleep problems and to design a corresponding personalized solution. Keiser said the most important thing is to listen to your body because it will generally let you know if you’re getting enough good, quality sleep. And remember that if your goal is to live well, you should value sleep equally with nutrition and fitness.
“If they’re trying to eat healthy and they’re trying to exercise, this is vital,” she said.
Just make sure you get out from behind the wheel first.
For more information about sleep treatments at Worthington Optimal Wellness, visitworthingtonoptimalwellness.com. Also, for helpful tips and more facts about sleep disorders, visitmedicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/sleep_medicine.
Better Sleeping through Technology
It was only a matter of time before the tech world offered a host of mobile solutions for sleep problems. Below are three of the top-rated apps for getting a good night’s rest, though Dr. Keiser warned that the scientific community is still unsure of the ultimate impact of “electronic pollution” coming from mobile devices when placed to the ear. So keep that in mind before you leave your LG by your pillow at night, and any app that causes it to emit light or sound is typically not a great idea.
An iPhone app that uses its built-in microphone and a heart-rate monitor to track your sleep quality for five nights to give you a personalized assessment, as well as info about how your sleep can be improved. But if you can sleep while wearing a heart-rate monitor then you probably don’t have much trouble in the first place.
Sleep as Android
This Android app listens to your room noise to catch you snoring or talking in your sleep and can help uncover disorders like sleep apnea. Its main purpose is tracking your slumber so that it can wake you gently and gradually with a variety of soothing tones during your lightest sleep cycle, at or slightly before when you need to wake up.
Rather than focusing on your sleep cycles and optimal wake times, this app for both Apple and Android offers 100 billion combinations of sleep-inducing sounds to send you off toward dreamland. Though Keiser advised quiet, sometimes white noise can be helpful for washing out random bumps in the night. I use an app called “fan” set to “high.”