Catch Some Zzzzzza

Catch Some Zzzzs to Put your Mind at Ease

Bad Sleep Habits can Wreak Havoc on Your Mind and Body

By Leah Lancione 

          Everyone knows that a good night of sleep can make your mind and body feel re-energized. Conversely, a night of tossing and turning can make you wake up listless, grumpy and feeling like your brain is foggy. Why is it then that so many people don’t heed the warning signs and don’t get enough sleep, get too much or simply continue to disregard their irregular sleep patterns?

          The National Sleep Foundation (www.sleepfoundation.org) reports that “the relationship between sleep and depressive illness is complex – depression may cause sleep problems and sleep problems may cause or contribute to depressive disorders. For some people, symptoms of depression occur before the onset of sleep problems. For others, sleep problems appear first.” Even if you haven’t officially been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, like insomnia, there’s resounding evidence that bad sleep habits can result in or exacerbate depression.

          For some new retirees, the normal cycle of waking and sleeping gets compromised once their day-to-day routine, which was dictated by work schedules for years, is gone. For some, not having to wake up early for work increases the temptation to stay up late and sleep in the next morning. Though an occasional late night and late morning won’t wreak major havoc on the body, the cycle of poor sleep can have detrimental if it becomes habitual. That’s not to mention that lack of sleep at night often causes folks to nod off during the day which can also intensify the cycle of sleepless nights.

          WebMD (www.webmd.com) also recognizes the link between sleep deprivation and depression. According to the health news site, the inability to sleep, sleeping too much or oversleeping are all can be signs of clinical depression. The website’s depression center explains that sleep is a “restorative state” and that when someone either has interrupted or insufficient sleep, it can lead to “fatigue, tension, vigilance and irritability.” In addition, the resulting fatigue can create a damaging and unhealthy scenario in which someone is so fatigued and physically drained that their activity and exercise level decreases and this “vicious cycle of inactivity and disturbed sleep can cause both physical and mood-related symptoms.”

          Patrick McNamara, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University, has suggested a direct connection between irregular sleep and depression in an article in the online health journal, Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com). Without going into the specifics of McNamara’s scientific evidence involving REM (rapid eye movement) suppression and its antidepressant-like affect on sleep and moods, he describes depression: “We never feel totally refreshed by sleep and sleep, when it comes, is fitful and punctuated by too many awakenings. I know of no cases of depression without profound disruption of sleep. It may even be that disruption of sleep can trigger depressive episodes.”

          In a discussion of depression in new retirees, W. Robert Nay, PhD., a licensed clinical psychologist, author and associate professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, stresses the importance of getting enough sleep to maintain health and wellness. He says everyone should have a regular wake up and sleep time, bedrooms should be pitch black so the brain can produce melatonin, rooms should also be kept at a cool, comfortable temperature and only short power naps should be taken during the day.

          If you have started to recognize the negative effects of your sleep habits, consider following these similar tips presented by the Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com/health/sleep):

1.  Stick to a sleep schedule.

2.  Pay attention to what you eat and drink, i.e., don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. Also, nicotine and caffeine act like a stimulant and alcohol disrupts sleep later at night.

3.  Create a bedtime ritual to signal to your body that it is time to wind down.

4.  Get comfortable. For example, use room-darkening shades, a fan, and/or earplugs — anything that contributes to a comfortable environment. Also consider the comfort level of your pillows and mattress.

5.  Limit daytime naps. Don’t allow naps to be longer than 10 to 30 minutes.

6.  Include physical exercise in your daily routine, but not too close to bedtime.)

7.  Manage stress. Stress can keep you up at night thinking about what you have to do.

          If you have tried and failed to get control of your sleep patterns by following these steps, consider seeing your doctor to address the problem in more detail. The American Psychiatric Association’s Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives online resource (www.healthyminds.org) notes that “poor sleep can often be a sign that there is something troubling you emotionally.” Just remember how important it was for your babies and growing children to have proper naps and sleep to develop their minds and bodies. You, too, need good sleep to allow your body to restore and rejuvenate itself.

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