Jan 18, 2019 Respect Your Sleep: Good Sleep is Critical to Good Health


Do you get enough sleep? If you don’t, your health may be at risk. That’s the case for one in three U.S. adults, according to the latest available statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for optimum well-being, about 35 percent of them get less than that amount.

“Sleep problems aren’t new. Insomnia, sleepwalking and nightmares are referenced in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth.’ Cervantes described rapid eye movement sleep disorder in ‘Don Quixote’,” says Mangala Nadkarni, MD, a neurologist who leads the physician team at The Center for Sleep Disorders at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “Even as few as 20 years ago, people used to ignore their sleep problems or just get used to them. They would make fun of snoring and that was the end of it. Now, there’s more awareness of sleep disorders and their effects.”


Most of us have heard the standard sleep-better advice: Keep your bedroom comfortable, dark and quiet. Avoid heavy meals, as well as alcohol, within a couple of hours of bedtime. Limit or eliminate nicotine and caffeine. Keep a consistent sleep schedule.

More people also have become aware that the blue light emitted by electronic gadgets (computers, smartphone screens, TVs) tends to disturb sleep by inhibiting the production of melatonin, the hormone the body needs to transition to sleep. Experts recommend that people power down their devices for at least two hours before bedtime.

“To increase Melatonin production, try to get exposure to sunlight for at least 20 to 30 minutes daily, without wearing sunglasses, barring any ophthalmological conditions,” Dr. Nadkarni advises.

As for what we sleep on, despite the best efforts of marketers, there seems to be no magic-bullet mattress. “From a sleep medicine point of view, there’s nothing in that area I can recommend,” Dr. Nadkarni says.


What about over-the-counter sleep aids? Dr. Nadkarni says she will sometimes recommend melatonin supplements to her patients, with the amount depending on their weight and other factors.

Many adults, of course, use prescribed sleep aids to get through the night. “Prescription sleeping pills can cause psychological dependency,” Dr. Nadkarni says. “In those cases, I may send patients to a psychologist here at Saint Barnabas Medical Center for CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Treatment] so they can learn to really relax body and mind without medications.”

Getting a good night’s sleep is a serious business, Dr. Nadkarni says. “Our brains are super-computers, and we don’t yet know how everything works,” she says.

“It’s not as though a switch shuts our brain off when we go to sleep. A complex ballet of neurochemicals allows us to sleep well. During that time, many things are happening in the background that affect our hormones, cardiovascular system and cognitive functions. People need to learn to respect sleep.”


The physical effects of not-enough-sleep go far beyond needing an extra cup or two of coffee. “Several industrial and public transportation accidents have been reported to be related to sleep deprivation or underlying undiagnosed sleep disorders,” says Mangala Nadkarni, MD. “These events have contributed to damage to properties and the environment, and to lost lives.” Moreover, the population of people reporting “short sleep” has higher rates of heart attack, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Lack of sleep can increase insulin resistance, a risk factor for both cardiovascular disease and diabetes.) Short or fragmented sleep has also been shown to aggravate chronic kidney disease and asthma.


Talk to your doctor if you have two or more of the following:

• Loud snoring

• Gasping for breath or temporarily ceasing to breathe during sleep

• Feeling sleepy or dozing off during daily activities

• Difficulty sleeping three nights a week or more

• Unpleasant tingling, creeping feelings in your legs when trying to fall asleep

• Waking up with a headache in the morning

• Frequent nightmares or sleepwalking

Keep a “sleep diary” for a week prior to the appointment to help inform your doctor about your sleep patterns. For a downloadable sleep diary from the Center for Sleep Disorders at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, visit our website.


Terms to help you better understand the science of sleep

• APNEA: temporary interruption of breathing, which may occur during sleep.

• CIRCADIAN RHYTHM: physical, mental and behavioral changes (such as sleep and wakefulness) that follow a daily cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness; sometimes referred to as a “body clock.”

• REM SLEEP: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep or dream stage of sleep that occurs at intervals during the night and is characterized by more disorganized brain waves. Insufficient REM sleep can lead to daytime fatigue, memory problems, weight gain and more.

• SLEEP HYGIENE: good habits that lead to healthy sleep.

• ZEITGEBER: from the German words for “time” and “giver,” this refers to environmental cues, such as temperature or light, that affect biological cycles.

The fully accredited Center for Sleep Disorders at Saint Barnabas Medical Center can help diagnose and treat both adults and children. For more information, call 973.322.9800 or visit our website.