What's Your Sleep Number?

”]A popular mattress company asks in its TV commercials: “What’s your sleep number?”  To them, the number refers to the firmness of the mattress. When doctors ask the same question, however, they want to know how many hours of sleep you get per night.

So…what’s your sleep number?

According to an article in The New York Times, a huge number of people seek help for sleeping problems. Sometimes—but not as often as you might think—the answer is as simple as getting a new mattress (more about that later in this blog). But the issue of sleep is more complex than that.

According to James Wyatt, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Rush University Medical Center, people who have sleep problems actually need to be divided into two broad categories — those who have sleep disorders and those who don’t sleep enough.

“There are over 70 different types of sleep disorders,” Mr. Wyatt said, including problems with breathing, like sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep terrors and nightmares and sleepwalking. For those kinds of disorders, it can be helpful to go to a sleep disorders clinic and unlearn patterns and behavior that may be causing these problems, Mr. Wyatt said.

Mostly, we just don’t sleep enough.

Everyone knows that lack of sleep causes drowsiness, sluggish thinking, and “foggy brain.”  But lack of sleep is much more serious that most people know. Scientific research shows has linked lack of sleep to weight gain (yes…weight gain!), heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Sleep disruption can affect natural body hormones and proteins, which are related to disease processes. According to an article in The Washington Post:

“Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body,” said Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago. “We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior.”

For the majority of sleepy people, the problem isn’t that they can’t sleep, it’s that they don’t. We read about high-powered executives and television personalities who claim to get by just fine on 3 to 4 hours of sleep per night. It makes the rest of us—those who sleep longer than a long evening nap—feel like slackers. But in reality, doctors suggest that most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

According to the article in The New York Times, one of the newly converted sleep proponents is Arianna Huffington, cofounder of The Huffington Post:

Several years ago, she said, sleep deprivation caused her to faint, hit her head on her desk and break her cheekbone.

“I began on a journey reacquainting myself with sleep,” she said. Last year, along with Glamour magazine’s editor Cindi Leive, she pledged to get eight hours sleep a night for a month — a promise she continues to keep.

“When I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I feel more creative and enjoy life more,” she said. The Huffington Post offices even have two nap rooms with couches and headphones.

Improving Sleep

Doctors would love to see society back away from the competitive I-sleep-fewer-hours-than-you culture. To get to sleep more and better, experts quoted in the article in The New York Times suggest:

  • Get into bed at a time that allows you at least 7 hours of sleep. (This may be the most difficult recommendation of all.)
  • Unwind before bed, and allow your mind to become calm. Choose what works best for you. For some people, it may be listening to music, for others, reading a book. Find routine and stick with it.
  • If you watch TV in bed, use a timer so it turns itself off at a defined time.
  • If you have trouble waking in the night to outside noises, invest in a white-noise machine. If you have an iPod speaker system, you can download nature sounds that you can put on a loop to play throughout the night.
  • Mattresses can help or hinder sleep:

While few sleep experts will recommend a particular mattress brand, Howard Levy, an assistant professor at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said the best mattress for people suffering from lower back pain was a mattress with a soft pillow top and a firm mattress underneath.

“You want something on top that doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the shoulders and sacrum,” Dr. Levy said. But you don’t want a mattress too soft, he added, “where your shoulders fold up like a pretzel.”

  • If you do need a new mattress, you may not need to invest in a whole mattress. Helene A. Emsellem, a clinical professor of neurology at George Washington University and director of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Md., suggested just buying a topper — filled with memory or latex foam, feather or wool — to put over the existing mattress.

But if there is one lesson to come out of this research and information, it is this:  People who sleep are not lazy… they are simply taking care of their health.

So…what is your sleep number?

To read the full article in The Washington Post, click here:  Scientists finding out what losing sleep does to a body

To read the full article in The New York Times, click here:  Not feeling rested?

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