This article first appeared in the Vail Daily on April 6, 2020
The phrase “you can sleep when you’re dead” is mortally unwise advice.
The importance of sleep is a misunderstood science. Many people believe that they can “will” their way out of lack of sleep. Lack of sleep has been shown in a number of studies to affect cognition, our ability to think, motor function and coordination as well as our moods by increasing anger and depression.
If you’ve always wanted to tend to your sleep patterns, now’s your chance. With the majority of the public staying at home due to the coronavirus spread, we’ve all got a little more time on our hands. Calculate how long it takes to shower, get ready and commute back and forth to work, shuttle the kids around to their school sports or extracurricular activities — you’ve got that extra time to sleep. Your schedule isn’t packed with committee meetings, dinners or happy hours right now either, so free time is abundant. Take this opportunity to learn the importance of sleep and practice it.
Dr. Jonathan Feeney, who specializes in family medicine at Vail Health, shares his expertise and some tips on the topic of sleep.
“There is a fair degree of variation between how much sleep people need. As a general principle, adults should get a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night,” Feeney said.
When we sleep, we allow our brain and body to rest. Lack of sleep promotes inflammatory markers, which can affect heart diseases such as heart attacks, atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure. It can also lead to increased risk for cancers, affect our immune system’s ability to fight off infections such as the common cold as well as affect hormones that are involved in obesity and diabetes. It also affects the speed at which our brains function.
Many people think they will be more productive if they are awake longer so they can do more during the day.
“People who feel that they are too busy to sleep actually have a well-documented decrease in performance in their jobs,” Feeney said.
“Studies have shown that in fatal truck driver accidents, 50% of the drivers were sleep-deprived. Studies on medical interns showed sleep-deprived doctors made more mistakes. Issues are generally associated with less than six hours of sleep,” Feeney said.
Can we ever “catch up” on sleep?
“An individual never recovers the sleep lost but the adverse effects resolve when an individual becomes rested and returns to a normal sleep pattern,” Feeney said.
Good sleep patterns don’t just happen overnight.
“Proper sleep hygiene involves going to bed and waking up at a set time, sleeping in a cool, dark room, avoiding alcohol and using the bedroom for sleep, not as an entertainment center. A TV should not be in the bedroom,” Feeney said.
Feeney states that there are a number of medical conditions that do affect sleep that should be addressed. These conditions include snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, bladder issues, reflux, obesity and musculoskeletal issues.
“You can do a simple at-home test where you wear a probe on your finger to see where your oxygen level is at overnight. Then you can follow that up with a formal sleep study that helps you figure out what you need to be at an appropriate oxygen level, whatever altitude you’re sleeping at,” Feeney said.
Go ahead, turn the alarm clock off, let yourself sleep longer than you normally would and discover how it feels to be well-rested during this unusual time at home.