by Rebekah Wicke, photography by Bill Ryan
College students aren’t getting enough. Neither are professionals with packed schedules and early morning meetings. Parents with young kids aren’t getting any at all. Journalists with deadlines certainly aren’t getting enough either. Sleep, that is.
For some, sleeping is the highlight of our day; people look forward to it after a long day. It’s also essential for our maintaining health. So why do most people feel like they never get enough? And, better yet, how do folks get more (and better) sleep?
One of the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep is to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, according to Dr. Michael Ader, the Medical Director of the Hanover Hospital Sleep Lab.
“The body’s ‘inner clock’ likes a regular schedule so it is important to try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day. Even if someone has a day off from work or school, it is recommended that they still get up around the same time,” Ader explains.
While that means no sleeping in late, the tradeoff is better “sleep hygiene,” which means better sleep overall. Dr. Ader notes that most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep per night, although that can vary from person to person.
“The right amount of sleep is the amount of sleep you need to feel refreshed and awake the next day. That sleep should be relatively uninterrupted however “a few” awakenings to go to the bathroom or tend to a child are usually not enough to cause daytime fatigue,” he explains.
It’s not just the amount of sleep that’s a problem for many; it’s also sleep quality that prevents people from getting a good night’s sleep.
Counting sheep just doesn’t cut it as a failsafe for falling asleep. Dr. Terry Gordon, a dental sleep specialist with the Pennsylvania Center for Dental Sleep Medicine, as well as a founding partner of Progressive Dental Care Center in Hanover, cites watching TV in bed and exercising too close to bedtime as two habits that lead to poor sleep quality.
Keeping the bedroom clear of distractions is one way to help prevent poor sleep hygiene, according to Dr. Ader.
“Try to condition your brain that bedroom equals sleep rather than bedroom equals watching TV or reading or working. A “ritual” before bed can sometimes be helpful for those who have trouble falling asleep; a bath, reading in another room, meditating etc… The ritual of a “bedtime story” for children is one way that they are conditioned to fall asleep. Their brain associates sleep with the regular nighttime story and being “tucked in.” Adults can do the same,” he explains.
Not only do good habits make for a good night’s sleep, but so does finding a good mattress. Jerry Smith, owner of Sleighter’s Furniture & Sleep Shop in New Oxford, finds that many people struggle with finding the right mattress.
“Many people tend to make the mistake of choosing a mattress that’s too soft for them. We recommend that people air on the side of too firm. You can always add toppers to make a mattress softer, but we can’t make a mattress more firm,” Smith explains.
With the right sleep habits and a good mattress, getting a good night’s sleep should be easy, right? In a perfect world, it would be. But for some, sleep related disorders make it difficult to get deep sleep.
“Probably the most common sleep problem seen by primary care physicians is insomnia. But our Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine Practice is a specialty practice and we see patients primarily referred for a concern or suspicion of Sleep Apnea as well as the less common condition, narcolepsy,” Dr. Ader explains.
Obstructive sleep apnea, in particular, is life threatening, and not all that uncommon, as Dr. Ader notes.
Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles behind our tongue relax while we our sleeping to a point of obstructing the airway, making it difficult or impossible to breath. The brain, in turn, has to interrupt sleep in order to open the passages to let us breathe. Someone with sleep apnea experiences this up to 40 times per hour, making deep sleep very difficult to achieve.
“Untreated obstructive sleep apnea is life threatening. Patients are either not breathing or having their blood-oxygen levels drop dangerously multiple times per hour throughout the night. A recent study indicated that as many as 92% of stroke patients had underlying sleep apnea,” Dr. Gordon explains.
Dr. Gordon notes that snoring is typically what gets someone with sleep apnea in to see his or her doctor or dentist. Rather than try to fix the snoring itself, he emphasizes that it’s important for anyone who snores to see a sleep doctor, in case they have sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea, which is often times diagnosed in a sleep lab, like the one at Hanover Hospital, can lead to a myriad of health problems, including obesity, stroke, fatigue, depression, immune system deficiencies, according to Dr. Gordon.
Treatments, such as wearing a CPAP mask while sleeping, dental apparatuses, and surgical intervention, can help to manage sleep apnea.
“In the Sleep Lab, we can also start the most common form of treatment, continuous positive air pressure or CPAP. This device delivers a slight amount of air pressure to the back of the throat to prevent the throat muscles from relaxing too much and closing the airway. The air pressure “stents” the air passage. If the air passage is not closing many times an hour then the oxygen level doesn’t drop many times an hour and the brain does not need to interrupt its sleep many times an hour. Daytime sleepiness often improves quickly,” Dr. Ader explains.
Dr. Gordon emphasizes that seeing your doctor when something is not right about your sleep is important for your health. No matter where your sleeping struggles lie—whether you aren’t maintaining good sleep habits, or you aren’t getting enough sleep for whatever reason—it’s important to consider sleep as an important part of your health.
So, turn off the TV, put the books away, turn out the lights, and get some. Sleep, that is.