Monday Medical: Is a good night’s sleep on your Christmas list? | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: Is a good night’s sleep on your Christmas list?

Nick Esares/For the Steamboat Today

This holiday season, many will find themselves worn down, tired and stressed out. This often is the result of racing around trying to make those perfect holiday memories, but for others, the feeling lasts throughout the year.

Annually, about 60 million Americans struggle with some form of insomnia or the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night.

The causes of insomnia are numerous and range from lifestyle habits to underlying health conditions. While underlying health conditions can lead to more dangerous issues, the consequence of any lack of sleep is familiar to us all: daytime sleepiness resulting in a loss of productivity during the day.

Michelle Watters-Yackey, lead sleep technologist with Yampa Valley Medical Center's Sleep Study Center, has seen numerous causes for sleep disorders. She recommends a better understanding of sleep hygiene to those struggling to get some ZZZs. Sleep hygiene refers to the different practices and habits that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.

Here in Steamboat Springs, a common issue is exercise.

"You really shouldn't be exercising in the evening. Some people will do aerobics after 7 p.m., which makes it harder to go to sleep," Watters-Yackey said. "Your body needs time to unwind and have those endorphins flushed out of your system. The earlier in the day you exercise, the better."

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Food and drink consumption habits also contribute to sleeping troubles.

Large meals eaten close to bedtime can hinder the ability to fall asleep. A change in diet also is not recommended for someone struggling with sleep.

Caffeine consumption seems obvious; however, Watters-Yackey points out that many people are more affected by caffeine than others.

"It's really suggested not to drink caffeine after noon as it takes a while for your body to utilize it. For some people, even an ice tea with dinner will really have an effect on their ability to sleep."

One trigger that may seem counterintuitive is alcohol consumption. While alcohol's sedative effect is clear, many don't realize that it's the alcohol itself that is causing them to wake back up, often only 90 to 120 minutes after falling asleep.

Limited exposure to natural light is another cause for concern. Sunlight affects circadian rhythms, which tell your body when to wake and when to sleep. For those with regular limited light exposure because of factors including work environment or lifestyle, Watters-Yackey recommends a HappyLight or similar product that emits UV and UVB rays.

Medication use also can be an area of concern and creates somewhat of a catch-22. Pain is one of the leading causes of sleep disorders, but pain medication inhibits many individuals from reaching REM sleep. REM is the period when we dream and in which rejuvenation occurs. Sleep aides also can be risky as they may become extremely difficult to quit.

Watters-Yackey also recommends using your bedroom for sleep only. She advises that you shouldn't watch TV, use a computer, play with children or even read in the bedroom.

It's also important to make the bed comfortable for sleeping. The room should be cool, not too bright and there shouldn't be pets sleeping next to you.

The list of sleep hygiene habits goes on. Shift work, stress, arguments before bed, napping. Some may look at these and claim they have no effect on their sleep at all. With so many variables, it can be hard to distinguish what is really keeping you up at night.

"I really suggest keeping a sleep diary," Watters-Yackey said. "If you chronicle your day and night, what time you go to bed, what you eat, when you exercise, when you have good and bad sleep, often you will see a pattern start to emerge and you can then make adjustments."

Individuals who suffer from insomnia regularly should contact their doctor. A doctor's recommendation to visit the Sleep Study Center might come next to further evaluate individual sleep disorders.

This article includes information from the National Sleep Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Nick Esares is a marketing and communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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