In August 2107, our very own Dr. Andrea LaCroix presented the health benefits of learning how to sleep during the Howell Lecture Series Improving the Snooze: Sleeping Better as we Age. “Almost everything is related in some way to our ability to function as we grow older; and sleep is perhaps one of the most important functions,” comments Dr. LaCroix. She, along with Dr. Carole Banka, Dr. Meg Richman and Board Chair and Registered Nurse Abigail D’Agostino, are part of the Foundation’s Speakers Service; a newly launched initiative focused on extending the organization’s mission of “keeping the women we love healthy.”
The 5 takeaways of her presentation are:
1. Sleep is regulated by a process called homeostatic process. It means that the body is set up to want to be in balance with other internal processes. Our sleep drive — when we get tired and feel sleepy, that drive to sleep — is balanced with the way we operate while awake. There are many internal and external factors that can affect this wake-sleep process.
2. Our sleep is regulated by our circadian rhythm. It has to do with our biological clock, and with our perception of light and darkness outside. According to researchers at UCSD, there are 5 stages of sleep which we cycle through every night. Stage one is the transition from wake to sleep. Stage two is an increasingly deep sleep. Stages three and four are where the delta waves occur. Finally, step five is the deepest type of sleep, with rapid eye movements. Our circadian rhythm changes as we age and disruptions in any of the stages can lead to severe health problems.
3. Several additional issues disrupt sleep including sleep apnea (where you stop breathing while sleeping), or pain of any kind; even going to bed with a headache or muscle pain from exercise is enough to disrupt our zzz’s. Side effects from medications, environmental and behavioral factors, and depression are also culprits of disruption in our sleeping cycles.
4.- What can we do about it? Some of the sleep hygiene tips include:
- Set schedules. Mind the time you go to bed to avoid sleep shifts. Behavioral changes will avoid insomnia.
- Talk to your physician if you suspect sleep apnea.
- Leg cramps and restless leg syndrome lead to the development of primary sleep disorders. Talk to your doctor about it.
- Watch your alcohol consumption. Even though alcohol might make you sleepy at first, it does affect your sleep. Once your body is finished processing it, chances are you will be awake.
- Turn the TV off. Much has been published about the light and sleep disruption.
- Avoid eating spicy foods that might cause acid reflux.
- Exercise earlier if time allows.
- Don’t sleep with your pets.
5. What is Dr. LaCroix’s current research on sleep?
She is involved in researching new approaches of cognitive behavior therapy to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia in women going through menopause. She has found that prescription medication is not necessarily the best option; but rather, an unnecessary one. Medication to treat sleep disorders may pose a temporary fix but does not address the root of the problem, and often perpetuates the causes of sleep disturbances.
Her latest research included developing and implementing a telephone-based cognitive behavioral training method for insomnia. The results of her team of researchers were clear: The method was not only feasible, but quite successful in reducing self-reported insomnia symptoms, improved overall sleep quality, and increased sleep efficiency – essentially learning how to sleep.
There are many resources that can help you determine if you have a sleeping disorder that might affect your health. As an example, take the sleeplessness and insomnia test here to determine if you need to see a sleep specialist.
In the meantime, a summary of the most relevant statistics below!
About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:
For the past 23 years, The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research has been dedicated to keeping to women we love healthy by making a long-term, positive impact on women’s health. To date, it is the premier organization advancing women’s health.
The organization does so by funding scholarships to students researching issues affecting women’s health; providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, and researchers to convey timely information on topics relevant to women’s health, and by funding research initiatives that improve the health of under-served women and increase awareness and advocacy in the community; bringing women’s health research to a full cycle.
Dr. LaCorix Luncheon Series Presentation.