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Aug 19, 2011, 07:38 AM

Are You Sleep-Deprived?
By Fran Golden, Special to Lifescript
Published December 11, 2010

Getting the recommended 7-8 hours of nightly sleep can make us thinner, happier and live longer. So why don't most of us get enough? Top researcher James Maas, Ph.D., explains how to spot – and stop – sleep deprivation…

We spend a third of our lives sleeping. But more than 70% of us are still sleep-deprived, says James Maas, Ph.D., one of the country's leading sleep researchers.

He blames the demands of a 24-hour society, where overtime hours, late-night web-surfing and all-night gyms are the norm.

And that hurts us more than we think, from our ability to hold our liquor to how healthy we are as we age.

"Sleep is the best predictor of longevity," says Maas, author of Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know About Sleep But Are Too Tired To Ask (http://www.lifescript.com/Health/Conditions/Sleep/Are_You_Sleep-Deprived.aspx?p=1) (Author Solutions, 2010). "Nutrition and exercise are extremely important, but you need all three to be psychologically and physically healthy," he says.

Lack of sleep doesn't just leave us feeling drowsy, moody and unproductive – it raises our risk of hypertension, heart attack and stroke, type 2 diabetes, periodontal disease, weight gain, depression, skin problems, even cancer.

In this exclusive Lifescript interview, Maas shares tips on how to rest better and get healthier.

How does the number of hours we sleep affect longevity?
There's some research that shows those who sleep less than seven or more than nine hours have a higher [death] rate than people getting about eight hours of sleep each night.

In general, people who get adequate sleep will live significantly longer than those getting less – 2-3 years longer at least. How do we know if we're getting enough sleep?
If you're fully alert all day with no midday dip, you're doing fine. But most people aren't.

Aside from drowsiness, how can someone tell if she's sleep-deprived?
Other symptoms include mood swings, irritability, anxiety and difficulty concentrating and remembering. In chronic cases, sleep deprivation causes frequent infections or illnesses, blurred vision, depression and changes in appetite.

Most of us think of sleep as a luxury. It's actually a necessity.

Is it true that falling asleep quickly isn't a good thing?
Some people brag, "I can sleep anytime and anywhere," or "I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow."

That's actually a potential sign of sleep deprivation. The average person needs 15-20 minutes to get to sleep. It takes that long for us to relax and for melatonin [a hormone that aids sleep] to be secreted in the brain.

What are other sleep myths?
Most people overestimate the amount of sleep they get by nearly an hour. They say they went to bed at 11, but that doesn't mean they fell asleep then. If you ask people how much they sleep at night, the average adult will say about 7.1 hours. When we actually measure this with electronic devices, it's closer to 6 hours. That's because people assume they fall right asleep, which is usually not the case.

How can we increase shut-eye time?
Start adding 15 extra minutes each night for a week and see how you feel. If you aren't fully alert all day, add another 15 minutes each night the next week.Most adults need to add an hour of sleep to their regular schedule. They won't believe how much better they'll feel. Just one extra hour of sleep every night can greatly improve a person's mood, alertness, health and productivity.

In your book, you write about getting the right kind of sleep. What do you mean?
There are five different sleep stages, which are important because each does different things. You need to go through all of them to be wide awake during the day.

REM sleep is critical for cognitive processing – retention, consolidation of memories and recall of critical information, as well creative problem solving and athletic performance.

Are more women sleep-deprived?
Women have more insomnia. In fact, 56% of women say they can't get a good night's sleep.

And they generally need more sleep than men to be fully alert during the day, because of hormones, stress and infant care responsibilities.

At certain phases of a woman's life – pre-menstrual, pregnancy and the beginning of menopause – hormones are raging, and that affects sleep.

How does having a bed partner affect sleep?
Women sleep better alone because they're lighter sleepers than men. One reason is men, especially obese men, tend to snore, which ruins their partner's sleep. Of course, obese women tend to snore too.

About 86% of women say their husbands snore, and more than half say it disrupts their sleep.[About] 23% of American couples sleep apart.

Is it OK to drink coffee to stay awake in the afternoon?
No, avoid caffeine – including coffee and chocolate – after 2 p.m. And no alcohol within three hours of bedtime. They're all stimulants.

Also, quitting smoking improves sleep, since nicotine is a stronger stimulant than caffeine.

Does the amount of sleep you get affect alcohol tolerance?
Absolutely. In terms of a person's ability to drive a car, one drink on six hours of sleep is the same as six drinks on eight hours of sleep.

When should you exercise?
You should exercise between 5 and 7 p.m., or at noon.

But not first thing in the morning – you risk back injury then, and your reflexes are slow. The fluid building all night between the discs in your spinal cord needs some time to dissipate.

Also, early-morning exercise is too far removed from bedtime to affect sleep quality.

What other factors affect our ability to sleep?
Bedroom environment, temperature, light and sound, mattress and pillows (http://www.lifescript.com/Health/Conditions/Sleep/Find_the_Right_Pillow_for_Your_Sleep_Style.aspx) are all important.

If you miss sleep, take a short power nap. Think of it as a sleep debt you need to make up. You coined the phrase "power nap" 36 years ago. What is it?
I invented the term in response to working as a consultant for IBM, where they were taking "power" breakfasts and "power" lunches.

A [2007] study in Greece found that power naps three times a week reduce the risk of heart attacks by 37%. It's a wonderful stop-gap measure if you don't get enough nocturnal sleep.

The best time to take one is usually eight hours after you wake up, during that midday dip in alertness.

What's the latest in sleep research?
There are areas of current research aimed at the effects of deprivation and the link between lack of sleep and cancer.

Sleep deprivation worsens sleep apnea [characterized by heavy snoring and repetitive pauses in breathing in sleep]. Eighteen million Americans have sleep apnea, and 95% are undiagnosed.

What advice do you give to sleep-deprived women?
There's no pat answer. It's like going to the doctor and saying you have a tummy ache. There can be 30 reasons.

If insomnia persists for more than three weeks, see someone trained in sleep medicine, not just your regular doctor.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy [talk therapy that changes negative behavior and thought patterns] works too.

A 10- to 15-minute nap – not so long that you go into a deep sleep, which would make you groggy when you get up and give you nocturnal insomnia – actually reduces stress.You learn the rules of sleep hygiene .

Check out our Sleep Disorders Health Center (http://www.lifescript.com/Health/Health-Centers/Sleep_Old.aspx).

[B]Are You Smart About Sleep?
Do you wake up feeling rested on most days of the week, or are you just not a morning person? Getting a good night's sleep affects every aspect of your day, including your mood and your ability to be productive. And if that doesn't get your attention, listen up: Your sleep habits can even affect the number on the scale. Find out (http://www.lifescript.com/Quizzes/Health/Are_You_Smart_About_Sleep.aspx) if you're smart about sleep, or if you need to be schooled by the Sandman.

Aug 19, 2011, 08:07 PM
Thanks for sharing. It was helpful.

Oct 24, 2011, 05:20 AM
Yes... it is very helpful. good sleep will give us good health...thanks for sharing

Nov 2, 2011, 06:47 PM
People who don't suffer from insomnia never understand how big a problem it can be, and the impact it can have on overall health. The causes of poor sleep can be many, so the solution can be difficult to pin down. Trial and error with a number of sleep strategies will usually bear fruit, but see an expert if you do not achieve success within a month!