To get a good night's sleep, turn off your smartphone at least 30 minutes before going to bed, says Loyola Medicine sleep specialist Sunita Kumar, MD, in recognition of Sleep Awareness Week, March 11 – 17.
"Many Americans are chronically sleep-deprived," said Dr. Kumar, director of Loyola Medicine's sleep program. "Be it social obligations, work or our lifestyles, we are staying awake longer and longer now. We still need seven to eight hours of sleep a night on average. But too many people are getting by on six hours or less."
Lack of sleep increases the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, weight gain, mood changes and accidents.
When you are sleep deprived, your cognitive throughput – how fast you respond to cognitive tasks – slows down. Consequently, small tasks seem to take longer. Studies also have found that going without sleep for long periods can hinder how your body regulates your feelings.This can cause mood changes that can make you anxious, confused, or irritable or focus on negative events.
Inadequate sleep also can cause weight gain. "Sleep deprivation affects the food choices we make. We tend to go for the sugary doughnut after a night of poor sleep," Dr. Kumar said.
Dr. Kumar recommends powering down smart phones, tablets and other electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed. The blue light, she explains, interferes with circadian rhythms that control sleep and some studies have shown that it affects melatonin secretion, a hormone needed for sleep onset. Also when you are unable to fall asleep, one should avoid using these electronic devices. "Many of my patients think watching TV will help them fall back asleep when it can have the opposite effect."
Dr. Kumar has noticed that more of her patients are using fitness trackers and smart watches to track their sleep.
"While these devices are great for encouraging an active lifestyle, I would be cautious when using them to track sleep," Dr. Kumar said. "You can use the information as a gauge of time spent in bed, but they are not as accurate as a sleep study performed in a sleep lab to determine different stages of sleep." Adding, "So obsessing about the amount of deep sleep or REM sleep, as shown by your fitness tracker, can cause unwanted anxiety."
If you find you aren't getting enough sleep or feel tired during the day, Dr. Kumar suggests speaking with your doctor. "Often times, a pattern of poor sleep can be an indicator for an underlying sleep disorder," Dr. Kumar said. "If you have a sleep disorder, your doctor can help you with a treatment plan and get you back to a good night's rest soon."
Loyola Medicine's Center for Sleep Disorders provides a comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating adult and pediatric sleep problems, including snoring, sleep apnea and narcolepsy. The multidisciplinary team of sleep specialists includes neurologists, pulmonologists, otolaryngologists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons. The center is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.