Sleep: It’s an essential part of life. In fact, we spend one third of our lives sleeping. Our circadian rhythm, also known as the sleep-wake cycle, is the internal 24 hour cycle which tells our bodies when to sleep, wake and eat. This cycle regulates many biological processes and if disrupted, our sleeping and eating patterns may be impacted.
Long term sleep disturbances have great risks to overall health, including an increased chance for cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke. Even obesity, diabetes, and depression have been linked with disruptive sleep. It doesn’t stop there. Sleep disorders also play a role in human errors including car crashes, aviation accidents and possibly even nuclear reactor meltdowns!
Sleep recommendations vary from children to adults. School age children require anywhere from nine to thirteen hours per night depending on their age. Adults eighteen years and older benefit from a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is essential due to its many restorative effects. The benefits of sleep consist of:
- Improved immunity
- Renewal of alertness, memory, concentration
- Enhanced ability to learn
- A time when the body repairs and builds muscle.
Common sleep disorders
Sleep disorders are often known in shift workers or travelers experiencing jet lag, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t prevalent in the general population, too. In the United States, an estimated 50-70 million adults have a sleep disorder.
Two common sleep disorders include insomnia and sleep apnea. Insomnia, the most commonly reported sleep disorder occurs when you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, while sleep apnea occurs due to breathing interruptions during sleep.
Allergy’s impact on sleep
Another population experiencing sleep disorders or disturbances include people with severe allergic rhinitis – 50 million Americans experience allergies each year. Overall, rhinitis has been indicated in impaired quality of life, and sleep disorders contribute to this outcome. In fact, when surveyed, those with allergic rhinitis rate impairment of sleep quality along with its consequences of daytime sleepiness and diminished concentration as one of the most significant concerns of their allergies overall.
Children with allergic rhinitis and asthma are especially affected. Airway obstruction, nasal congestion, and coughing can increase sleep disruption which may results in missed school days, trouble focusing and learning while they are in school and potential behavior issues. This then affects a child’s overall school performance.
How to get a better night’s sleep
What behaviors can you use to promote good sleep? Some of our routines actually work against a good night’s sleep. Incorporating good sleep hygiene practices can help reduce sleep disturbances allowing for a restful night’s sleep.
Some useful tips to create a better sleep environment include:
- Create a nightly sleep ritual.
- Consider having a relaxation period thirty to sixty minutes prior to sleep.
- Take a hot bath with bath salts, drink calming tea and dim the lights.
- Fresh bed sheets, a comfortable pillow and mattress as well as black out shades are of great value for many people.
- Maintain a consistent bedtime and only go to sleep if sleepy.
However, it’s not just your bedroom environment. Other useful tips to support a beneficial sleep routine include:
- Exercise during daytime hours, not right before bed as it can keep you awake longer.
- Avoid napping during the daytime. If you do need to nap, limit it to thirty minutes and do not nap after 2:00 p.m.
- Avoid sleep fragmenting substances in the evening such as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
- Turn off screens two hours prior to your bedtime. The blue light from screens decreases production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that supports our sleep wake cycle.
Last but not least, get your allergy symptoms under control. Make an appointment with an allergist to find out what you are allergic to. Next, treat your allergies. Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is an allergy treatment that alters the immune response to allergens and can help to reduce your allergy symptoms, making it easier to go to sleep and stay asleep, resulting in a restful and peaceful night.
Making some simple changes in your nighttime routine can have big advantages in terms of your day-to-day sanity, and your long-term health will thank you!