Doctors delineate the critical role of quality sleep

Doctors delineate the critical role of quality sleep

By Life@TheU

Doctors delineate the critical role of quality sleep

By Life@TheU
Experts at the University of Miami Health System outline the connection between your health and sleep, including how to detox your brain and get proper rest.

Sleep is necessary to function, and not getting enough of it can have a negative impact on your health. Just like breathing, eating, and drinking, sleep is a process that your body craves and requires. If you get less than what your body needs for optimal health, you have insufficient sleep or sleep deprivation, which leads to short- and long-term problems. Learn about the signs of sleep loss and how you can repay your sleep debt.

Stress affects sleep and the immune system.

Our ability to fight off illness begins with a healthy immune system, which is created by how we live, eat, sleep, and move. Based on her work as the medical director at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Miami Health System, Dr. Karen Koffler has learned that when stressed, people tend to experience disrupted sleep patterns, skip exercise, and opt for less nutritious food, all of which can negatively impact the immune system. When tired and vulnerable—particularly after a long day—sweets and carbohydrates can be a tempting treat. Make a plan for healthy snacking to tide you over between meals, and refrain from eating after dinner to promote more restorative sleep. Learn more about building a resilient immune system.

Recognize sleep disorders.

Sleep apnea affects more than 18 million Americans, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. While a common condition with potentially significant consequences, many lack awareness and the condition often goes undiagnosed.

Obstructive sleep apnea causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start while sleeping because of a blockage in the throat. This causes breathing muscles to have to work harder to open the airway and pull air into the lungs. And as a result, the breath becomes very shallow or interrupted. When breathing begins again, it may be with loud gasping, snores, or body jerk. Snoring is a noticeable symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Learn more about treating sleep apnea and possible solutions.

Identify exhaustion.

Living in a fast-paced world filled with days of activities would leave many feeling extremely tired. But some adults experience fatigue that hits without warning and is not linked to poor sleep or daily stress. While it can happen to anyone, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, is more likely to develop in young adults and women. Symptoms include heart palpitations, headaches, cramps, brain fog, erratic blood pressure, lightheadedness or dizziness, and sometimes even vomiting and fainting.

The syndrome—which can happen to an otherwise healthy individual without underlying conditions as well as someone with a more complicated health history—is often misdiagnosed or missed altogether, according to Dr. E. Robert Schwartz, a family medicine expert with the University of Miami Health System. Symptoms can occur daily or less frequently, and last days or a few hours, often leaving patients to complain about feeling drained after completing the most straightforward activities. Learn more about POTS, a highly treatable, little-known condition.

Monitor your child’s screen time.

Depending on the age, children need between eight and 12 hours of sleep each night. Establishing good sleep habits early on can have positive effects on children, as well as setting limits on screen time, which should not take the place of sleep, socialization, and physical activity. Because blue light emitted from digital devices disrupts sleep-wake cycles, they should be kept out of children’s bedrooms, particularly during bedtime. Dr. Alan Delamater, a clinical psychologist with the University of Miami Health System, suggests that parents encourage children to explore and enjoy alternative activities and establish media-free zones at home, such as the dinner table. Learn more about the effects of screen use, physical activity, and sleep on children.

Establish good sleep habits from infancy—with realistic expectations.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a “good sleeper” is a baby who wakes frequently but can get back to sleep. Frequent waking is developmentally appropriate as newborns require feedings every two to four hours, depending on whether breast- or bottle-fed, respectively, says Dr. Gwen R. Wurm, a pediatrician with the University of Miami Health System. While every child is different, Dr. Wurm reminds parents to be flexible with their little one when it comes to sleep, particularly when they catch a cold, hit a growth spurt, or start teething. Learn how to help your baby become a good sleeper.

Detox your brain.

Without adequate sleep, we are less able to focus, become moody and unproductive, and are more prone to accidents. During the day, our brain cells actively use energy to think and learn, building up toxins. While we sleep, our central nervous system’s waste removal system, or glymphatic system, gets to work cleaning and detoxing the brain. It’s hard to keep up when we don’t sleep well as an excess of cellular waste can build up, including excess amyloid proteins—the primary protein associated with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. According to Dr. Alberto Ramos, director of the Sleep Disorders Program at the University of Miami Health System’s Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, the quality of your sleep is just as important as the quantity. Learn more about the importance of sleep for brain function.

If you need help with a sleep problem, feel tired, have memory problems, or snore loudly, visit the UHealth Sleep Medicine Center for more information, or call 305-243-3100 to schedule an appointment.

Access the medical care you need at a UHealth facility or via telehealth by scheduling an appointment. Find additional information or call 305-243-4000.  

Live Well with UHealth is a series that highlights curated content from articles previously published on UMiami Health News, a site that shares health tips and insights into research discoveries that change lives, brought to you by the experts at the University of Miami Health System. This story highlights the following articles.