Changing habits can offset sleep deprivation

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— You exercise, you eat right, you take a multivitamin, but do you get enough sleep? If you're like most people, sleep is the first thing you give up when you can't get everything done. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the majority of us are walking around sleep-deprived. Nearly two-thirds of the 84 million Americans who suffer from sleep problems are women.

"Insomnia" is a catch phrase for numerous sleep problems, including the inability to fall asleep in less than 30 minutes, stay asleep or wake up refreshed. Experts agree that we all need close to eight hours of sleep per night, yet the average length of sleep is only five to six hours. This lack of sleep can set us up for problems such as memory loss, mood changes and disease.

Other causes of sleep deprivation are: Temperature: a bedroom that's too hot or too cold. An uncomfortable bed. Noise although constant, soothing background noise may help you sleep. Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine before bed. Smoking, exercising too close to bedtime and changing work schedules. Medications such as decongestants, steroids and some blood pressure medications (ask your doctor for medication-specific advice).

Short-term insomnia (sleeplessness for a few nights) is most often a result of stress. Stressors such as a new job, relationship problems, work concerns, problems at school or an illness or death in the family can all cause a lack of quality sleep.

If sleep problems continue more than three weeks, see your doctor to rule out any medical condition. Some physiological causes of sleep interference are chronic pain conditions, depression, arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Obstructive sleep apnea, usually characterized by loud snoring, can cause more than a poor night's rest. Because apnea causes repeated episodes of cessation of breathing during the night, it can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, depression and fatigue.

Yampa Valley Medical Center's new sleep-study program has diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea in dozens of patients. The condition may be successfully treated through surgery or a combination of weight loss, medication changes and nighttime oxygen use that improves airflow and reduces sleep disturbances.

If your groggy mornings are just an occasional or short-term annoyance, you can improve your sleep habits by keeping a regular sleep-awake schedule.

Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, including weekends and during vacations. Try a light snack an hour before bed. Foods such as milk, cheese, bananas, turkey and fish contain the amino acid tryptophan, which converts to seratonin, a brain chemical that regulates sleep.

Don't force yourself to sleep if you aren't ready. If you are still awake after 30 minutes of hitting the pillow, get out of bed and do something relaxing such as reading or listening to quiet music until you are relaxed enough to try again.

Sleep is an important component of your overall health. In the National Sleep Foundation's 2000 survey, sleep ranked third among important health conditions. Give it the same emphasis as good nutrition and exercise.

Check out the National Sleep Foundation's Web site at www.sleepfoundation.org for products that may help you have a better night's rest.

As coordinator of the Wellness Program of the Yampa Valley Health Plan, Lisa Bankard, M.S., oversees Yampa Valley Medical Center's community education programming.

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