30 December 2014

Sleep Hygiene Tip of the Week: Resolve to achieve better sleep in 2015

'Tis the season to list some personal goals and establish a plan for achieving them. When it comes to sleep, you'll find there is no variation from this recurring theme: it's always going to be about self-improvement and the shedding of bad habits.

Listed below are ten popular New Year's resolutions, not ranked in any special order, just pulled from multiple top ten lists scattered across the web.

Check out how each of them has a connection with your sleep health in some way. Then consider how any of these might provide you with the foundation for setting your ow personal goals for more and better sleep in the new year.

Lose weight.
Here's something interesting to consider: by sleeping more and better, you may actually improve your metabolism and achieve weight loss. A little, anyway. On the flip side, if you lose weight, and you snore or have (or think you might have) obstructive sleep apnea, you may improve your sleep and reduce the impact your sleep breathing issues have on preexisting conditions like hypertension or diabetes. There are so many good reasons linking weight loss to better sleep health that this perennial resolution favorite deserves to be number one on every overweight American's goal list.

Get more and better sleep.
Yes, this is one of the top ten resolutions and for good reason: We need more and better sleep!

Quit smoking.
If you're a smoker, you've heard it all by now--all the reasons to quit. Here's one you may not have thought of. Quitting smoking may improve your sleep health. You may feel that smoking helps you relax so you can asleep, and that's partially true. But smoking has both a relaxing and a stimulating effect on the body. If you smoke and suffer from insomnia, the smoking might be part of the root cause of your sleepless nights. Smoking also impairs your body's ability to practice gas exchange (taking in oxygen, releasing carbon dioxide) and can result in sleep breathing disorders which, over time, can be difficult to treat. It may also mean that when you hit your golden years, you'll need an oxygen tank at your bed's side just to get through the night.

Save money or resolve debt.
These are two popular hand-in-hand resolutions that may not easily translate to better sleep or a better life. But consider the related notion of taking fewer days off from work due to illness or poor sleep; for someone who punches the clock, that's money in your pocket and you will probably be more productive and happy at work, too, if you had more consistent quality sleep. Salaried workers fare no better and productivity goes down when sleeplessness goes up, and this costs American businesses way more money than you would think. Or, think about one of the biggest risks of sleep deprivation: the bills incurred that are related to a drowsy driving accident, which could be a catastrophic amount of money if you are in a car accident and hurt yourself, another person or damage property. Even if nobody gets hurt and you have insurance, the property damage alone could cost you in raised automobile insurance rates, and there will likely be a polysomnogram in your future to determine why you are so sleepy. Deductibles for sleep studies can also be steep if you have a minimal plan or live where diagnostic studies run in the thousands.

Travel more.
Seems silly to say this, but it's not silly if you have moderate to severe sleep apnea and allow it to get in the way of any travel you might want or need for your work or personal life. Portable sleep apnea devices are a reasonable solution and airports are now quite familiar with these passing through security. They are more common than you think and absolutely liberate many people who might not otherwise travel because they don't think they can take their PAP machine with them.

Volunteer, or give to charity.
If you have a sleep disorder already, you can sign up to participate in clinical trials to help sleep researchers to learn more about the sleep and wake cycles of the brain and body. Or you could give a gift of money to the National Sleep Foundation so they can continue their good work.

Learn a new language or skill.
It doesn't have to be a foreign language or exotic skill. It could be the vocabulary necessary for good health literacy or a new relaxation technique. Learn what it means to get a good night's sleep by learning and practicing good sleep hygiene, which are habits that set you up to succeed in falling asleep and remaining asleep at night (see "Live sustainably").

Live sustainably. 
The notion of "going green" (or practicing sustainable habits) has a counterpart here: mindful self care when it comes to sleep, or two often repeated words at SHC: Sleep Hygiene. Find ways to improve your sleeping environment. Turn off your devices an hour before bed. Practice bedtime relaxation. Avoid food and drink and behaviors like late meals and heavy exercise before bed. Go to bed when you are sleepy; rise at the same time every day. These are great sustainable practices for better sleep, and with better sleep, you can be a more energized, more productive and efficient version of yourself.

Better dental hygiene.
Imagine making a trip to the dentist's for a cleaning and discovering you are a potential candidate for a sleep test. It's likely this will be a norm in the future as many dentists are now becoming trained in sleep dentistry, and one of the things they can help to identify is potential sleep apnea. The presence of worn teeth might suggest bruxism (or teeth or jaw clenching) which can fit the pattern for sleep apnea. Also, certain kinds of cranial formations in the area of the jaw are consistent with sleep breathing problems (such as a severe overbite).

Do something big.
Some people may decide to go back to school. Others might run a marathon. These are tremendous goals, but so are any concerted efforts you make to end your insomniabecome compliant with PAP therapy or succeed in diagnosing and treating your new sleep disorder. Taking your sleep as seriously as someone might take the training for a marathon can only lead to success, and on top of that, the spoils that come with helping your body to function better. Better sleep means a sharper mind during the day, a stronger body at the cellular level, a more effective immune system, even healthier skin! Don't shortchange you this opportunity to improve your life. Make more and better sleep the priority and raise the limits of what you can accomplish!