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Healthier living through sleep and respiratory care and wellness.

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In Search of Sleep: Experts Recommend Lifestyle Changes Over Sleeping Pills

In Search of Sleep: Experts Recommend Lifestyle Changes Over Sleeping Pills

In Search of Sleep: Experts Recommend Lifestyle Changes Over Sleeping Pills

By Linda Childers

If you have problems falling or staying asleep, you’re not alone. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, each night millions of people in the United States spend the night tossing and turning.

While it may be tempting to reach for a sleeping pill to ensure slumber, medical experts recommend using caution. A medical study released in September 2014showed that using benzodiazepine, a drug class used to treat anxiety and insomnia (and found in medications including Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Ambien) of three months or more was linked to an increased risk (51 percent) of dementia.

Even over-the-counter sleeping pills have been linked to memory problems. Benadryl, a popular allergy medication, that also induces sleepiness, was shown in a 2012 study to increase forgetfulness.

“The sedative effects of Benadryl can be long acting and can impair performance such as driving the following morning,” said Dr. David Brown, a sleep psychologist in Woodlands, Texas.

For short-term relief, Brown said melatonin, a natural hormone, is the best bet for insomnia.

“Melatonin taken in the early evening, combined with bright light in the morning can help people fall asleep earlier,” Brown said. “As with any supplement, before taking melatonin consumers should always check with their doctor.”

Instead of turning to sleep pills, Terry Cralle, a nurse and certified clinical sleep educator from Fairfax, Virginia, said making some lifestyle changes can often lead to a better night’s sleep.

“If you suffer from chronic insomnia, you should talk to your doctor and see if you might be a candidate for a sleep test or routine blood testing,” Cralle said. “Conditions such as sleep apnea and vitamin deficiencies have been shown to cause insomnia.”

For those who have ruled out insomnia-related medical conditions, Cralle recommends practicing good sleep hygiene.

“If your mattress is more than seven years old, it may be time to buy a new mattress,” Cralle said. “Look for a mattress that offers both comfort and support, and also make sure to upgrade your pillows, and to purchase pillows that support your sleep position.”

Cralle also recommends adopting a good bedtime routine.

“This means no televisions, smartphones or electronics in the bedroom, since these devices can act as stimulants and keep you awake,” she said. “Instead, try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule, and consider installing blackout curtains, a fan or a white noise machine in your bedroom.”

Can Poor Sleep Predict Disease?

Can Poor Sleep Predict Disease?

Can Poor Sleep Predict Disease?

By Jennifer Nelson

Chronic sleep deprivation is one of the most serious health complaints these days. Now, research suggests that chronic sleep deprivation may be a precursor to a number of other diseases as well.

Here’s what we know about the sleep/disease link:

Parkinson’s disease

People who have a REM sleep disorder that fails to paralyze their muscles while sleeping, allowing them to act out dreams, have shown a 75 percent likelihood of developing Parkinson’s decades later. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people with Parkinson’s also are at higher risk for restless legs syndrome (RLS) and periodic leg movement disorder (PLMD), two conditions that may seriously disrupt sleep. However, there is no evidence that RLS or PLMD are risk factors for Parkinson’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease

Studies of mice with plaque buildup in their brains slept poorly, which suggests trouble sleeping may be an early Alzheimer’s warning sign. What’s more, brain pathways involved in the act of daydreaming or introspection in people who have chronic daytime sleepiness are the same pathways affected by Alzheimer’s. So a lack of ability to let your mind wander, or go into “default mode,” may be an early precursor to this memory-stealing disorder.

“We are very interested in exploring these new observations to understand who is at risk and who is protected from Alzheimer’s,” said study author Randy L. Buckner, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Washington University in St. Louis.

Obviously not everyone with poor sleeping habits is destined to get Alzheimer’s disease, however.


People who are short on sleep and spend less time in REM sleep crave more sweet, salty and fatty foods, leading to weight gain. Research shows that a lack of sleep can impair appetite regulation, skew glucose metabolism and raise blood pressure, which can lead to overeating.

“These findings show that sleeping poorly can increase a person’s risk of developing obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease,” said Dr. Kristen Knutson of the University of Chicago.

Further study is needed to determine whether improving sleep can thwart these disorders.


In an animal study at the Medical College of Wisconsin, researchers found that abnormalities in bone and bone marrow were prevalent in rats that were chronically sleep-deprived. If the same results are to be found in humans—and the researchers suspect so— it would indicate a lack of sleep could cause changes in bone density, leading to osteoporosis and the inability to repair bone damage as we age.

If you sleep poorly or are being treated for sleep disorders such as insomnia, REM disorder or sleep apnea, talk with your doctor about whether you may be at higher risk for developing one or more of these conditions. There could be lifestyle changes, tests or precautions to help you reduce your risk.

Answering the Alarm Clock? You Could Be Experiencing Sleep Drunkenness

Answering the Alarm Clock? You Could Be Experiencing Sleep Drunkenness

Answering the Alarm Clock? You Could Be Experiencing Sleep Drunkenness

By Jennifer Nelson

Ever pick up the alarm clock to answer a phone call in the middle of the night? Or get up out of bed and think you’re heading to work in the wee hours of the morning? If you have, you may suffer from sleep drunkenness.

This little-known sleep disorder affects one in seven people and involves confusion or inappropriate behavior while you’re waking from sleep.

study in the journal Neurology found sleep drunkenness occurs mostly during the first part of the night or close to morning and is triggered by a sudden arousal from sleep.

“Sleep drunkenness refers to any situation where the arousal causes confusion; in other words, when people wake up and they’re doing things they are not completely aware of, or they’re aware but don’t remember,” said Dr. Michael Friedman, a sleep expert at Chicago ENT, Advanced Center for Specialty Care. The disorder used to be referred to as Confusion Arousal.

Nearly 20,000 people over 18 were surveyed about their sleep habits. The study found 15 percent have had a sleep drunkenness episode within the past year, and of those, half have them at least once a week. People with a history of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, those with mental health disorders and people taking antidepressants were most at risk, according to the study.

Dr. Friedman noted it’s important to differentiate sleep drunkenness from parasomnias, which are episodes of doing abnormal things during sleep such as sleep eating or sleepwalking and act out when they are fully asleep. Normally muscles are paralyzed during REM sleep, which prevents movement and acting out dreams; however, in people with REM disorders, muscles aren’t paralyzed, allowing them to act on their dreams dangerously.

During a parasomnia episode, the person is fully asleep and it can last five minutes or longer. Sleep drunkenness, however, happens in the brief transition from sleep to arousal and lasts only 30 seconds to a minute.

“Sleep drunkenness is a little less dangerous potentially but people can still get out of bed, fall, trip, hurt themselves or someone else,” Friedman said.

It’s crucial to get any type of confusion or inappropriate behavior during sleep checked out.

Not much is known yet about treating sleep drunkenness or whether it’s pathological or some type of normal transition state during sleep. But people who log shorter or longer than the average six to eight hours of nightly sleep, experience sleep disorders, have anxiety or bipolar disorder, taking antidepressants or suffering jet lag should be aware they are at greater risk for sleep drunkenness.

Petting your slippers and carrying them to the kitchen for a bowl of milk instead of the cat may be seem funny, but it could spell a potential sleep problem.

Changing the Culture of Sleep Deprivation at Work

Changing the Culture of Sleep Deprivation at Work

Changing the Culture of Sleep Deprivation at Work

By Jennifer Nelson

The sleep habits of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer were ridiculed on Twitter when she missed a meeting with ad execs because she overslept. While humorous on the one hand, the incident actually proves that lack of sleep affects every level of today’s workforce. It’s estimated that 35 percent to 40 percent of Americans have sleeping problems, and CEOs of mega conglomerates are no exception.

“People are not typically good judges of their own fatigue and impairment; they get used to the problems associated with fatigue and come to believe their lethargy, lack of focus, even ‘micro sleeps’ are normal,” said Dr. Dave Sharar, managing director of Chestnut Global Health, a Bloomington, Illinois, company that provides employee assistance programs.

Employees deal with increased workloads, stress and time-shifting, all of which undermine sleep quality.

What can companies do to help employees assess their sleep and improve both its length and quality, improving their employee’s alertness, productivity and preventing worksite accidents?

“Since poor sleep accounts for more than 30 percent of traffic and industrial accidents, sleep hygiene should be part of a company’s employee health program as much as diet, etc.,” said Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT and founder of the Grossan Institute.

“For better sleep schedules, companies should require a number of hours worked, rather than a strict schedule where one needs to be at the office at a specific time in the morning,” said Kenny Kline, founder of Slumber Sage, an online mattress and sleep resource.

People prefer different sleep schedules, and have different obligations in the evening and morning that could force them to cut back on sleep if they don’t have worktime flexibility.

Nutrition also can have a big impact on sleep, and eating unhealthy options throughout the day may hinder quality sleep. Workplaces should have healthy snacks available and/or encourage their consumption.

“Companies can also encourage employees to pick a time and place for a restorative, 15-minute, onsite nap,” said Pam Kouri, Chestnut’s Health and Wellness director. “While it’s not always practical at more conventional workplaces, employees can increase the benefits of napping by picking the right time and keeping to it (usually just after lunch) and arranging suitable napping conditions—quiet, dark and cool.”

Senior management could also embrace sleep management as a productivity tool. “A well-rested employee is prepared, alert and performs at a high level, with lower risk of accident and injury,” Kouri said.

The key is both promoting the benefits of self-directed sleep management plans and providing employees with tools and proper guidance, and offering more robust company-sponsored programs that involve in-depth assessments, a personalized treatment plan and counseling to address the underlying problems that might be exacerbating sleep disorders.

New Mom? Help Put Baby on the Right Sleep Track

New Mom? Help Put Baby on the Right Sleep Track

New Mom? Help Put Baby on the Right Sleep Track

By MaryGrace Taylor

They say the first six weeks with an infant are the toughest: You’re just starting to get the hang of round-the-clock feedings and diaper changes. At the same time, your little bundle doesn’t know yet that daytime is for being awake and nighttime is for sleeping. So you’re running on practically zero steam.

But as any parent knows, your sleep schedule doesn’t immediately flip back to normal once you make it over that first exhausting hump. In fact, a recent Australian study found that even four months after giving birth, one in two new moms still report being excessively drowsy.

Though the women who participated in the study got a little more than seven hours of shut-eye per night, their sleep was fragmented. Most moms dozed off, then woke up to tend to their babies, dozed off again, woke up again … you get the (very tiring) picture.

It’s true that expecting to get a full night of uninterrupted shut-eye with a newborn is unrealistic. But by helping their baby get the best sleep she can, new moms (and dads) are more likely to snooze a bit more soundly, too, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here’s how.

Make nighttime wake-ups a non-event. Instead of stimulating your baby and making it more difficult for her to fall back asleep, stay calm and quiet when you feed or change her in the middle of the night.

Teach her that daytime equals playtime. By talking and playing with your baby during the day, she’ll stay awake longer. And that means longer periods of sleep at night.

Help your baby learn to fall asleep on her own. In the middle of the night, put her in her crib when she’s drowsy but still awake. Holding or rocking her until she’s asleep completely can make it harder for her to doze off without you in the middle of the night.

Don’t go to soothe her ASAP. When you hear your baby fussing in the wee hours, wait a few minutes before checking on her to see if she’s able to fall back asleep on her own. You just might be pleasantly surprised.

Mattress Makeover: Sleep Like You’re Still on Vacation

Mattress Makeover: Sleep Like You’re Still on Vacation

Mattress Makeover: Sleep Like You’re Still on Vacation

By Jennifer Nelson

Ever stay in a luxury hotel and sink into a dream bed for the best slumber of your life? Wish you could take that part of your vacation back home? You’re not alone: About 70 percent of people in an industry survey said they believe a new mattress would help them sleep better.

But while those big, comfy beds in a resort hotel may be a part of a great night’s sleep, there are many things go into making the perfect sleeping environment. So how can you bring your vacation sleep home?

“Many hotels focus on good sleeping conditions that are not present in our home. Very opaque shades and complete control over the temperature are two examples of things that hotels do very well to improve the sleep experience,” said Kenny Kline, sleep expert and founder of Slumber Sage, an online resource for mattress buying and getting the best night’s sleep.

If you’ve had your mattress longer than eight years, it’s probably time to bite the bullet. But remember: There’s no one-size-fits-all with mattresses. High-end memory foam may be great for back sleepers but they tend to hold in heat, making them uncomfortable for others. Adjustable beds may work for couples with different firmness needs, but not everyone needs to shell out for that option.

Kline said many of the mattresses in luxe hotels are a coil/foam hybrid, providing great support and great comfort. “The true measure of a mattress is how well it supports the sleeper years into its lifetime,” he said.

A few tips for snagging a luxury mattress:

· Read reviews from folks who’ve had their mattress a few years to see if they still love it.

· Go for a Euro pillow top for extra cushion.

· Compare construction—number of coils, whether there’s memory foam, or whether it’s a combo.

· Firm is best for neck and back support.

· Buying online may be cheaper than in-store, and always buy on sale.

Check bed linens

Another reason vacay slumber is so sweet is all those white, fluffy, down coverings and high-thread counts. According to some luxury hoteliers, the secret is a bonus middle sheet between the fitted and top sheet, which helps regulate body temperature. “Layering a luxurious bed starts with a good-quality mattress pad or featherbed,” said Steve Caradano, owner and founder of Vero Linens, a high-end luxury linen company that manufactures Italian linens.

Next up is excellent-quality sheets. While thread count is what we know to look for in the United States, the grade of cotton is equally important, Caradano said. Egyptian cotton is the finest, and there are hundreds of grades. Obviously, a 1,000-count Egyptian cotton sheet set for $39.95 won’t be equivalent to a luxe boutique or high-quality department store brand. Caradano said the finest cotton costs $20 a meter before anything’s been cut, sewn or transported, and a flat sheet contains 3.5 meters of fabric. Excellent quality sheets can set you back north of $300 and should last six to eight years.

“The hospitality industry recognized people like sleeping under light, airy duvet covers and down comforters,” said Caradano. They breathe better than synthetic fabric, aren’t as heavy and won’t splay your feet and spread toes downward, causing back pain. Plus, down traps air and provides light, cool, airy layers, keeping you warm without weight.

Finally, a menu of pillows with various fillings are key. Down and feather are far superior in comfort and support to foam or synthetic pillows, which are stiff and can bunch. Buckwheat hulls also can offer neck and head support that relieve tension, helping you sleep better.

If you can’t give your body another vacation, give it the best part of a vacation: the right sleeping environment for a perfect night’s sleep.