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Sleep Well and Stay Healthy

Researchers found out that people with poor sleep quality have higher inflammation levels which could increase the risk for stroke and heart disease.

Alana Morris, MD, a fellow of cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine, will be presenting the findings of a recently concluded study at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions which will be held in Chicago on Sunday, November 14, 2010. The findings are the results of a survey involving 525 middle aged people who participated in the Morehouse-Emory Partnership to Eliminate Cardiovascular Health Disparities, or META-Health – a study about the participants’ duration of sleep and quality of sleep.  Several experts were a part of the META-Health study.  Medical experts who served as co-directors were Gary Gibbon, MD, the director at Morehouse School of Medicine’s Cardiovascular Research Institute; and Emory’s Cardiovascular Research Centre’s director, Arshed Quymi.  The director of Emory University’s Sleep Program, Donald Bliwise, also extended help by providing additional guidance.

Details of the Study

According to Dr. Alana Morris, acute deprivation of sleep results to changes in the function of the blood vessels, as well as an increase in inflammatory hormones production.  However, Dr. Morris emphasized the need for more research studies regarding the physiologic effects of persistent lack of sleep. Furthermore, she added that previously conducted studies which examined the response of the body to lack of sleep have utilized subjects who have been acutely deprived of sleep for over 24 hours in experimental sleep labs and nothing like this has been examined in epidemiologic studies.

For the META-Health study, researchers performed an assessment of the participants’ quality of sleep, making use of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index survey. The study population’s median sleep score is six, and getting a score which is more than six is deemed poor.  The data were also analyzed basing on the subjects’ sleep duration (in hours).

Subjects, who stated six hours of sleep, or fewer, were seen to have increased levels of three inflammatory markers.  The markers were C-reactive protein, Interleukin-6 (IL-6) and fibrinogen.  The average levels of C-reactive protein in subjects who reported less than six hours of sleep were approximately 25 percent greater than the people who had six to nine hours of sleep.  C-reactive protein in people who lacked sleep was 2 mg per litre, while those who had enough sleep had 1.6 mg per litre.  The difference between the two groups was still considered significant, even when recognized risk factors were corrected such as obesity, diabetes, blood pressure and smoking.

Significance of C-reactive protein

C-reactive protein is significantly used as an important marker for the risk of heart disease and inflammation. People with C-reactive protein levels which are more than 3 mg per litre have twice the risk of having a heart attack, as compared to people with low C-reactive protein levels.  This information is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association.

According to Dr. Morris, the levels of C-reactive protein in people who had little sleep were higher.  However, it was still within the range of what health experts consider to be low to intermediate risk. But she points out that the population of their study was a representative of the community-based population and not patients who are in hospitals or those with known heart diseases, so their population study have overall lesser risk and lower levels of C-reactive protein compared to people who belong to the high risk population utilized in some studies.

Morris added that inflammation might be the reason why poor quality of sleep increases the risk for stroke and heart disease. She said that whether or not the lack of sleep directly contributes to cardiovascular mortality is still questionable.

Short Sleep or Long Sleep?

Past research studies have shown that individuals who get to sleep for seven to eight hours each night live the longest, and those who have too short or too long sleep duration results to a higher mortality.  Researchers discovered that sleeping for too short or too long a time are often associated with psychological stress, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure which are risk factors for the development of stroke and heart diseases.  But in the META-Health study, subjects who slept longer than nine hours did not exhibit significantly greater inflammation marker levels.

How to Sleep Better

While some people have the ability to fall asleep instantly as soon as their heads hit the pillow, there are some unfortunate ones who find it difficult to sleep.  For them, sleep just doesn’t come easy.  If you belong to the latter category, here are some tips on how you can sleep better:

Set a Routine

Setting and following a routine is an appropriate way to condition your body.  It is like setting your internal body clock, which goes off at specified times.  Before going to bed, you may set rituals – take a bath, apply lavender lotion, drink warm milk, read a few pages of your favourite novel before you turn off that bedside lamp.  Stick to this ritual and you will find how easy it is to fall asleep once everything is done.

Also, go to bed at a regular time each night and wake up at the same time each day. Do this even on weekends, even if it is so tempting to sleep and wake up late.

Eat Right, Drink Right

  • Refrain from eating big meals during dinner, especially those that contain high levels of fats since it takes too long to digest.  Also, avoid acidic and spicy foods since this may result to heartburn and stomach trouble.
  • Increase your consumption of foods that are rich in vitamin B complex such as whole grains, legumes, wheat germ, fish, and egg yolks; and vitamin C such as tart fruits and green leafy vegetables.  These vitamins aid in converting tryptophan (mainly found in milk) to serotonin which helps you achieve deep sleep.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before going to sleep since it would greatly affect the quality of your sleep by letting you wake up in the later part of the night.
  • Caffeine causes problems in sleeping even if you drank it ten hours before sleeping.  So it would be wise to reduce your caffeine intake.
  • Do not drink too much liquid at night.  Large amounts of tea, juice, soft drinks and even water can wake you up and cause frequent trips to the bathroom.

Go Natural

  • Do not use sleeping pills.  There are other effective and safer ways to sleep.
  • Drink chamomile tea before sleeping.  It has been used for over 1,000 years and is said to induce sleep and improve its quality.
  • Hops pillows, or those that contain the herb Humulus lupulus, is helpful for people with insomnia.  It is said to have sedating and calming effects, helping a person sleep better.
  • Adding lavender oil when bathing before going to bed is helpful since it gives a calming and relaxing effect and it enhances the quality of sleep.

Sources
life123.com
helpguide.org
eurekalert.org

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  1. Blood Pressures Rising Among Youth: Researchers Believe Lack of Sleep May Be to Blame
  2. Why Sleep Needs the Goldilocks Treatment
  3. Opening Up a Sleep Savings Account
  4. Lack of Sleep a Nightmare for Blood Pressure
  5. Gaining More Sleep by Losing Weight
  


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