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Why Sleep is More Important Now than Ever (Three Scientific Studies Broken Down)

I have a confession to make. I, personally, have struggled with sleep on and off throughout my adult life.  I always envied people who sleep effortlessly.  I never understood how the person next to me can be deep asleep a few minutes after the plane takes off while I almost come to tears watching them.  […]

Reyzan Shali

I have a confession to make. I, personally, have struggled with sleep on and off throughout my adult life. 

I always envied people who sleep effortlessly. 

  • I never understood how the person next to me can be deep asleep a few minutes after the plane takes off while I almost come to tears watching them. 
  • I never understood my own two sisters, who can fall asleep the second they lay their heads on their pillows, leaving all the world’s pressing issues for me to solve. 
  • It always amazes me how some can download soft music to listen to at night to fall asleep while that same soft music keeps me wondering whether I ordered enough tests for the 8 a.m. patient or if I should have ordered more? 

Forget about me, we, as a society, have reached a time and a place where sleep is not in fashion. “If you’re sleeping enough, then you don’t have enough going on in your life” is a thought prevalent in modern society. 

We flamboyantly brag about how little sleep we’re getting. (Scratching my head)

Somehow, a lack of sleep has translated to status and success. I really don’t know how we got here as a society, but we did. 

It’s time to shift the paradigm and embrace sleep. It’s time to put sleep back in fashion and not be frugal with it. And I am not just telling you as a mother, or as a doctor, but as a friend who can point you to science and research that shows the value of good sleep. 

Over my decades of seeing patients as an internal medicine doctor, specialized in primary care, I have seen my fair share of sleep-deprived patients. Rest assured (pun intended) that these three studies will help you find more sleep, starting tonight. 

Study 1: Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold

In a study called Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold, a total of 164 healthy men and women (age range, 18 to 55) volunteered for this study. Wrist actigraphy (device worn on wrist that can determine sleep vs wakefulness) and sleep diaries assessed sleep duration and sleep continuity over seven consecutive days. Participants were then quarantined and administered nasal drops containing the rhinovirus, and monitored over five days for the development of a clinical cold.

Conclusions

Shorter sleep duration, measured behaviorally using actigraphy prior to viral exposure, was associated with increased susceptibility to the common cold.

I had a client who came to me saying she has been traveling between different states taking care of different family members and has not been able to get rid of the cough and cold started during her travel. She actually diagnosed the problem herself, telling me she thought that her sleep was not letting her shake the cold. She was spot on. Based on the above study, all her travel has impaired her sleep which translated to compromised immunity and higher susceptibility to infection.

What to do

Though many of the United States are sheltering at home, not traveling, many are experiencing high levels of stress and extra long days as they are taking care of elderly parents, or stepping up to assist in their children’s remote learning. Be sure to place importance on getting the sleep that you need, so that you are not more susceptible to illness. 

Study 2: Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold

In a study about Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold, the participants were 153 healthy men and women volunteers, ages 21–55. For 14 consecutive days, they reported their sleep duration and sleep efficiency (percent of time in bed actually asleep) for the previous night, and whether they felt rested. Average scores for each sleep variable were calculated over the 14-day baseline. Subsequently, participants were administered nasal drops containing a rhinovirus, quarantined, and monitored on the day before and for five days following exposure for development of a clinical cold

Conclusions

Poorer sleep efficiency and shorter sleep duration in the weeks preceding an exposure to a rhinovirus were associated with lower resistance to illness.

I had a patient who had to work different shifts from one week to the next. Sometimes from one day to the next. Therefore, he would get 4 hours of sleep one night and maybe eight hours the next night. I went over this study with him to show him why he has not been able to get rid of this cough/cold over the past couple weeks.

What to do

It is important to try to stabilize your schedule as much as possible, so you can get a good restful eight hours sleep. Try not to flip your shifts frequently. When you are done with your shift and it’s your time to sleep, please do so. Choose sleep over laundry, dish washing, etc …

Study 3: Sleep after Vaccination Boosts Immunological Memory

In a study researching Sleep after Vaccination Boosts Immunological Memory, twenty-seven healthy men were vaccinated against hepatitis A three times at weeks zero, eight, and 16 with conditions of sleep versus wakefulness during the following night. Sleep was recorded polysomnographically, and hormone levels were assessed throughout the night.

Conclusions 

To our knowledge, we show for the first time that sleep indeed enhances the vaccine-driven induction of immunological memory. 

I remember a couple who came to me asking to get all their vaccines updated all in that day because they are leaving on a long trip that same night and planning to go on different adventures for six months. It took a few minutes of conversation between us and review of this study for all to realize they should not do that.

What to do

Plan on getting a good night’s sleep whenever you are vaccinated because your body will produce more antibodies if you do so.

If science is telling us that sleep helps vaccines work better, then don’t you think that at this time, with what is going on with the pandemic, that we need to pay more attention to sleep?

What can we do to improve our sleep hygiene?

It can be as simple as looking over some trusted recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacation.
    • It is a good idea to help your internal clock to get into a consistent routine
  • Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
    • Meaning don’t wait till all the dishes, laundry and every other chore completed and then you only have five hours before you need to get up.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. 
    • Don’t go to bed because you are bored. 
  • If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
    • For me it has been getting up few times a night so many nights 
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. 
    • I have not been able to figure this out
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex. 
  • Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. 
  • Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
    • One day hopefully I’ll get the family to understand this!
  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
    • I guess going to be with two I phones plus a laptop plus an iPad is not such a good idea.
  • Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack. 
    • This might be a problem for many of us whom food is comfort.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet. 
  • Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. 
  • Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime. 
    • I prefer to avoid consuming alcohol all together.
  • Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.

For even more information on sleeping tips, downloads, and videos, check out Arianna Huffington’s sleep resources here. They are great!

Final Thoughts

You may be like me, and have struggles with sleeping. Or you might be one of the lucky ones who can fall asleep on command. But no matter what your sleeping skills, you now can be rest assured that sleep is on your side in the fight against a pandemic. Learn from scientific research and use the sleeping tips that work best for you. Good luck and good night!

P.S. If you have your own tips on the topic of sleeping, share them as comments, I’d love to hear!

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