How many times do you hear from patients, “If only I could get a good night’s sleep”? How often do you tell yourself that? What does that truly mean? Does a good night’s sleep mean six hours, eight hours, or more in a night? There are many research papers on this subject and they all vary on recommended sleep time duration, but most recommend that we should get anywhere from 17 hours of sleep a night for newborns and 7-8 hours for adults. Even though these are recommendations for sleep duration, each individual is the only one that can determine how much sleep is needed. Are your patients (or you) getting enough sleep?
We live in a society where everything is at our fingertips and we are always on the go. We can shop, research, and do just about everything within minutes. I think this has lead us to be a "quick fix" society. Maybe we should try to slow things down, take time to turn everything off, and focus on what matters most – a good night’s sleep! Just like our computers and smartphones need time to backup and update, so do our bodies.
It’s amazing what a good night sleep can do for your body. While you are sleeping, your body temperature lowers, blood pressure drops, and brain waves slow down, giving your heart and vascular system time to rest. Blood flow moves to the muscles and tissue, giving them time to repair. Sleep also helps us regulate the appetite hormones – it suppresses ghrelin and stimulates leptin which controls the appetite. Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. Just think about those times when you aren’t feeling so well and all you want to do is sleep. It’s your body’s way of telling you what it needs. Sleeping also helps your brain to work properly, by forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Pay attention to your mood, energy and health after a poor night’s sleep versus a good one.
MAKING SLEEP A PRIORITY
Take a moment and ask yourself this question: "Is sleep a priority for me?" I know sometimes that is hard for me to do and maybe even tougher for those going through cancer treatment. If you are like me, you might just need to do one more thing before you head off to bed that leads into maybe 10 more things. For patients with cancer, they may have 10 things racing through their mind. Either way it puts you to bed later and has you waking up groggy. With sleep being a vital indicator of overall health and well-being, we should make it a priority. Did you know that we spend over 1/3 of our lives sleeping? Research states those who get 7 hours or more of sleep a night are healthier and live longer. Whereas those that suffer from chronic insomnia have negative consequences such as depression, anxiety, irritability, physical pain, cognitive problems, impaired work performance, health and immunity problems.
But, how can you achieve a great night sleep when you have problems sleeping? There are several medical conditions that can infringe on our sleep -- insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, anxiety, and maybe even hot flashes. If you add in emotional distress that patients with cancer can suffer from, it’s no wonder why they aren’t getting a good night’s sleep. According to the National Cancer Institute, up to half of cancer patients don’t sleep well at some point. How often are we talking to our patients about their sleep? Do you have any recommendations that you share with your patients? How often does a physician prescribe medication to help with sleep? Although sleep medication can be beneficial to patients at certain times, there are also other ways to train our bodies for a better night’s sleep.
PRACTICING GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE
Making sleep a priority can be easy with good "sleep hygiene." Sleep hygiene is much like dental hygiene that requires nightly and daily rituals for consistently good hygiene. Follow these tips to help you achieve a good night’s sleep.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. Just like babies have a bed time routine, so should adults. A warm bath, a few minutes of reading, meditation, or listening to music can help initiate good sleep.
- Wait until you are sleepy before going to bed. You must train your brain to have a strong learned association between bed and sleep. If you can’t sleep get up and out of bed.
- Stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends and holidays.
- Manage your clock – set the alarm clock and turn the clock around so if you should wake up you are not clock watching which can lead to great frustration and anxiety. Trust that you set the alarm and not worry about the time.
- Evaluate your bedroom for ideal temperature, sound and light. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillows.
- Turn off all electronical devices at least one hour before going to bed. If possible put your phone on "Do Not Disturb" mode when you go to bed so you are not tempted to check it during the night. Try keeping all the electronics out of the bedroom. The bed should only be used for sleep and intimacy.
- Don’t take naps after 3pm. Taking naps decrease the urge to sleep.
- Exercise daily, but avoid strenuous exercise within six hours of your bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime. Caffeine has a long half-life and alcohol will limit deep sleep.
- Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. This may help limit the trips to the bathroom.
- Avoid medication at bedtime that delay or disrupt your sleep, if possible. Be sure to talk to your physician about your options.
- Remember you won’t sleep until you close your eyes. Relax, clear your mind and listen to your body.
So, the next time you hear a patient say, "I feel tired when I wake up," chances are they aren’t getting enough sleep. Try recommending the list above to help them get in a better sleep habit.