Teens and the trouble with sleep texting

When it comes to teenagers, texting can get a little out of control. In fact, a recent study found that one in three teenagers send more than 100 text messages a day. At this rate, it’s not surprising that four out of five teens sleep with their phone on or near their bed.

In the past year, the term “sleep texting” has received buzz  among family physicians and the media alike. It refers to the phenomenon of reading and responding to text messages while asleep. Dr. Gerald Rosen, medical director of the pediatric sleep disorders program at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, explains that sleep texting is an automatic response, similar to how a mother responds to her crying baby during the night. “If you’re a mother, you awaken to the sound of your child crying. Even if it’s not a loud noise, it will trigger an awakening. That’s essentially what’s happening with lots of kids with their phones.”

So what are the implications of sleep texting? If you’re lucky, you’ll send a few texts to friends that are may be relevant or cause a few harmless laughs. However, it can cause embarrassment– or worse. Some people have texted 911, for example.

The true troubles of sleeping so close to your phone do not end at sleep texting. With the bright lights and noises emitted from a phone, keeping the device on your pillow or around your bed is bound to interrupt sleep. When we stare at gadgets during the night, be it cell phones, iPads, laptops, or televisions, the bright light inhibits the release of melatonin – a hormone that helps us to fall asleep when it’s dark. Typically doctors recommend avoiding these devices at least 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep.

With many people becoming increasingly reliant on cell phones, we’ll likely hear more about “sleep texting” in the future. If you want to sleep well–and avoid yourself potential embarrassment–keep your cell phone away from your bed!

Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Come True…with Sleep!

2014 is coming! Have you thought about any goals or resolutions? If the recurring plans to lose weight, improve your mood or get healthier are part of your New Year’s resolutions, sleep might as well be #1! As enjoyable as it is, sleep will help you to achieve all sorts of other resolutions. Here’s how:

  • Lose Weight – There is plenty of research to suggest that a lack of sleep leads to weight gain and obesity. Specifically, studies have found that long sleep durations alter hormones in a way that sparks an increase in hunger and appetite for carbohydrate-rich foods. Sleeping well is sure to facilitate weight loss goals.
  • Improve Your Mood –  It’s no surprise that a poor night’s sleep can make us grumpy and irritable. But this year, new research found that sleeping well improves relationships by fostering feelings of gratitude. Therefore, it’s also in the interest of those most important to you to sleep well.
  • Get Healthy –  Quality sleep is known to boost immunity and make us less susceptible to catching a common cold or the flu. If that’s not enough motivation, numerous illnesses and disorders, including diabetes, heart disease, depression, and even cancer, have been linked to sleep deprivation.

Most people get optimal benefit from 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleeping too little or too much may reverse other efforts to achieve common New Year’s resolutions. Make it easier on yourself by getting a good night’s sleep. May it be a happy, healthy, and sleep-filled New Year!

Sleep Apnea: Are you at risk?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious sleep disorder that causes a person to repeatedly stop breathing during sleep. It happens when the upper airway gets blocked, which is often the result of the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapsing and closing during sleep.

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that over 1 in 4 (26%) of Canadian adults have symptoms and risk factors that are associated with a high risk of having or developing OSA. However only 3% of Canadians have been diagnosed with the disorder.

A diagnosis is important because sleep apnea is linked to a host of health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. In addition, it can significantly impair daytime productivity and increase the risk of motor vehicle collisions. 

So how do you know if you have obstructive sleep apnea? Let’s start with the obvious symptoms:  The most common symptom of sleep apnea is loud snoring, especially when it is  followed by a silent pause. Those suffering from the disorder may also experience gasping or choking during sleep, daytime sleepiness, irritability and morning headaches.

Aside from the symptoms, there are factors that can increase your risk of developing OSA: 

  • Obesity – Obese adults are 7 times more likely to develop OSA. Excess weight adds pressure on the upper airway tube, making the diameter smaller than it already is, and therefore making a blockage more likely.
  • Neck Circumference –  A neck circumference of more than 17 inches in men and 15 inches in women is associated with a higher risk of OSA. While obesity and neck circumference may go hand in hand, other individuals such as muscular athletes may also have a large neck circumference. 
  • Age – The risk of developing OSA increases with age.  The tissue in the throat naturally softens as you get older, increasing the likelihood of a blockage.
  • Alcohol & Smoking – Alcohol is a muscle relaxant, so consuming it close to bedtime can lead to an airway blockage, even in those who don’t normally exhibit any OSA symptoms. Smoking irritates the airway, causing it to swell. Smokers are 2.5 times more likely to have OSA.
  • Gender – Men are more than twice as likely to develop OSA.

In addition to the medical treatments available to treat OSA, addressing some of the risk factors like losing weight, quitting smoking, or reducing alcohol intake can decrease your risk and help to eliminate symptoms. 

All in all, if you think you’re at risk of developing OSA or if you experience any of the symptoms, talk to your doctor. They can refer you to a sleep clinic for further testing. Unfortunately, there are  too many Canadians suffering from the disorder without a diagnosis and without treatment. 

New research finds truth in “beauty” sleep

It may seem like common knowledge, but it’s officially true: You look better when you sleep well! Researchers at the University of Michigan recently used a scientific face-measuring system to determine the impact of CPAP treatment on the attractiveness of 20 participants suffering from sleep apnea.

Using a technique called photogrammetry – that is, taking photos of the subjects’ faces with a high-precision three-dimensional camera – the study sought to determine if two months of CPAP therapy could improve the participants’ looks.

The “before” and “after” photos were reviewed by 22 judges which included medical professionals and regular people.  The judges found that the majority of participants looked more alert, attractive and youthful in their “after” images.  It is believed that this increase in perceived attractiveness was due to facial changes associated with sleeping better – the participants had noticeably less redness under their eyes and over their cheeks.

Another study completed in Sweden  specifically investigated the facial cues by which we recognize someone as sleep deprived. They found that the faces of sleep deprived individuals were characterized by having more hanging eyelids, redder and more swollen eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles/fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth.

The results of these studies don’t seem surprising since quality sleep is essential for cell rejuvenation and maintaing a healthy immune system. Without good sleep, aging skin and a less youthful appearance are bound to become more apparent.

While the importance of sleeping well goes beyond good looks, perhaps this is just a little extra incentive to make sleep a priority, and seek treatment for sleep disorders. Not only will you feel better and reduce your risk of devastating health conditions, you’ll look better too!

Sleep: Facts from around the world

Earlier this month, the National Sleep Foundation published the 2013 International Bedroom Poll. This study was the first of its kind–it compared various countries around the world on sleep matters such as attitude, time and routines. As Russell Rosenberg, PhD, Director of Research and Investigator at NeuroTrials Research states: “This groundbreaking poll suggests that chronic sleep deprivation is a significant global health problem.” Here is a quick overview of some of the most interesting findings:

  • Japan and the United States reported the least sleep. According to the report, Japanese and Americans sleep about 30 to 40 minutes less on workdays than those in the other countries, averaging about six and a half hours nightly. Of equal concern, over 30% of respondents in all countries surveyed sleep less than the recommended seven hours per night.
  • Most people – all over the world – don’t sleep well every night. From many of the countries surveyed, including, Mexico, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany, less than half get a good night’s sleep on most work nights or week nights.
  • The scent of a bedroom is important. Over 75% of respondents from Mexico, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Unites States and Canada agree that they feel more relaxed if their bedroom has a fresh, pleasant scent.  It’s so important that they take measures to ensure that their bedrooms smell just how they want.
  • Bedtime rituals are common.  Over half of Mexicans and nearly half of Americans meditate or pray prior to going to sleep. In the United Kingdom, nearly half drink a soothing beverage like tea before bed.
  • TV before bed is the most common bedtime routine. At least two-thirds of people in all counties surveyed watch TV in the hour before they go to bed.

The results of this poll show that sleep deprivation isn’t confined to North America. Globally, sleep deprivation is racking up. Habits like watching TV before bed and other technology distractions may only worsen the problem. Although this was the first study  to look at the sleep as a universal experience,  the National Sleep Foundation hopes that this initial poll will inspire more research on topic.

Young, sleepy and driving – A dangerous mix

When we think about the risks of sleep deprivation, health concerns like heart disease and diabetes immediately come to mind. Unfortunately the consequences of sleep deprivation can be even more devastating, and occur more frequently than you may suspect. One of these consequences is motor vehicle accidents, especially among young drivers.

According to Kingman P. Strohl, MD, director of the Center for Sleep Disorders Research at Case Western Reserve University, “up to 20 percent of crashes that occur on monotonous roads can be attributed to sleepiness.” A recent study completed by the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, shed light on the relationship between young, sleepy drivers and motor vehicle accidents. The researchers analyzed data from over 19,000 newly licensed drivers between the ages of 17 and 24.

They found that those who reported sleeping 6 or fewer hours per night had an increased risk for crash compared with those who slept for more than 6 hours. Specifically, less sleep on the weekend was  associated with an increased risk for run-off-road crashes. In addition, car crashes among tired young drivers were more likely to occur between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

These findings suggest that as a society, we need to take the consequences of sleep deprivation more seriously and better educate young people on the risks of sleepy driving. Young people are taught important messages about the dangers of drinking and driving. Why not address sleepiness in the same manner? Sleepiness behind the wheel is a societal problem that should be addressed by educators, health care providers and the government.

Here are a few tips for young drivers: If you know you’ll have a long or monotonous drive ahead of you, plan your sleep accordingly – most young adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night to function optimally. If you’re beginning to feel sleepy while on the road – get off the road! Take a break, take in some fresh air, or consider checking into a hotel for a snooze. If it’s an option, share the driving or ask someone to take over the wheel for you. Let’s stay alert to the consequences a sleep deprivation.

Sleep well this summer

The official start of summer signals excitement for families everywhere: The end of the school year just around the corner, the approach of vacations and summer camps, and time to relax and enjoy the nice weather. While summer brings with it loads of excitement, everyone should be mindful of sleep patterns over the next couple of months. Excessive heat, long daylight hours, and falling out of routines are just a few of the problems associated with summer slumber.

Here are a few tips to help you sleep well this summer:

  • Block out light – If you live in a Northern region or any location where the sun stays up later than you do, invest in blinds or curtains that will effectively block out the light (and keep them closed, of course.) Exposure to light, whether at night or early in the morning, will inhibit the release of melatonin – a hormone that helps us sleep.
  • Stay cool – If you do not have air conditioning, a ceiling fan or free-standing ventilation unit will work wonders keeping you cool at night. Since heat rises, you may want to consider sleeping on the lowest floor of your dwelling.
  • Establish a summer sleep routine – It may be unrealistic to stick to your school year routine, but try to adjust it to one that works for summer–and stick with it. This means ensuring your kids wake-up and go to bed around the same time every day.
  • Limit Alcohol – Patios and parties are sure to be hoppin’ this summer. Enjoy yourself! But also remember that consuming alcohol within a few hours of your bedtime could leave you tossing and turning in the night.
  • Exercise early – Beautiful weather is a great reason to get some fresh air and outdoor exercise.  Remember that physical activity too close to bed time means that your body will be alert when you’re trying to wind down–hindering your ability to fall asleep. Exercising earlier in the day will actually help you to fall asleep.

Summer is meant for fun times, and getting a good night’s sleep will help you make the most out of it. Here’s to a fun, safe, and sleep-filled summer!

Asthma, Sleep Quality, and School Performance in Children

Asthma is a chronic lung disorder whereby the airway becomes narrowed or inflamed, making it difficult to breathe easily. A number or factors can trigger asthma symptoms including environmental factors such as pollen and cold air. Statistics Canada estimates that 13% of Canadian children aged 0 through 11 suffer from asthma.

One problem that has been linked to asthma in children is sleep disruption. Unfortunately asthma symptoms tend to spike at night, and with symptoms like wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing, sleep loss is bound to happen.  New research from Brown University’s Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island delved a little further into this issue by analyzing the impact of asthma-related sleep loss on school performance. Principal investigator Daphne Koinis-Mitchell, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior (Research) and Associate Professor of Pediatrics (Research) explains, “While it has been recognized that missed sleep and school absences are important indicators of asthma morbidity in children, our study is the first to explore the associations between asthma, sleep quality, and academic performance in real time, prospectively, using both objective and subjective measures.”

The study examined data from 170 asthmatic children, aged 7 to 9. The following methods were used to obtain a complete picture of how asthma was affecting sleep and school performance.

  • Severity of the participants’ asthma symptoms were measured using spirometry–a pulmonary function test which tracks the speed and amount of air exhaled.
  • Sleep quality was measured by detecting body movements during the night.
  •  The children and their caregivers used diaries to report on their symptoms and how they attempted to control them.
  • The children’s teachers kept reports on the children’s behaviour and performance in school.

The study found that compared to children with well-controlled asthma, those with poorly-controlled asthma struggled more in school and showed carelessness with their school work. “Children can experience more symptoms at night because they are not taking their medications consistently,” said Koinis-Mitchell. “They end up missing sleep. When they wake, they are groggy, not alert and they attend school this way. That has an impact on their level of concentration. The quality of their work is compromised. In general, their academic function is negatively affected.”

Children under 12 should get 10-11 hours of sleep each night, while those in middle school and high school should aim for a solid nine hours. If you believe your child is struggling academically due to asthma-related sleep loss, talk to your doctor about the problem.  Controlling environmental factors and taking proper medication may help to alleviate your children’s asthma symptoms at night. A sleep specialist may also be able to provide advice on how to improve the sleep environment, to keep environmental triggers to a minimum.

More couples choosing a sleep divorce. Could it be the answer to your insomnia?

Do you ever blame your spouse for a restless night’s sleep? It turns out that more and more couples are considering a “sleep divorce,” that is, sleeping apart from your partner in another room.  According to British sleep specialist, Dr. Neil Stanley, “We sleep better when we sleep alone.” A recent article published in the Toronto Star caught the public’s attention on this divided topic:http://bit.ly/11zbefO
Experts predict that about a quarter of couples in the U.S. have chosen to take a sleep divorce.  Moreover, home developers are increasingly designing homes with two master bedrooms. Why is it so hard for some couples to sleep soundly—together? A number of reasons: Firstly, consider the size of the bed. A couple sharing a double bed translates into nine inches less per person than a child in a single bed…Now that’s potential for a problem.  Secondly, if one’s partner has a bothersome behaviour during sleep, perhaps snoring loudly, sleep talking or stealing the covers, the other is bound to lose some sleep over it. Another reason is in a couple’s sleep routines. For example, one partner may work late or enjoy staying up late to read or watch television.
The consequences of sleep deprivation include a lengthy list of health problems: diabetes, heart disease, stroke and obesity to name a few. Studies have also shown that sleep deprived couples show less affection towards each other, and hence it has a negative impact on the relationship. So is a sleep divorce just a practical solution to a common and dangerous problem? There is still some debate among experts, but there’s no doubt that it’s been a successful choice for some couples.
If a sleep divorce seems unfathomable to you, try addressing the key sleep issues:

  • If the mattress is the problem, invest in a new mattress that fits your sleep needs and is big enough for both of you to have you own space. Talk to the sales rep about a mattress that minimizes the impact of nighttime movements.
  • Compromise on a sleep routine. If one partner is an early bird and the other a night owl, try to agree one some middle ground. Even if it’s only a few night’s a week, it will help.
  • Be aware of sleep disorders. Have you ever considered that there may be more to blame for your sleep trouble than your spouse? There could be an underlying, treatable sleep disorder that’s causing snoring, insomnia or daytime fatigue. Talk to your doctor.
  • Know the basics of sleep hygiene. Here’s a previous blog post discussing the worst sleep offenders (not including your partner) –https://medsleep.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/the-top-sleep-offenders-whats-getting-in-the-way-of-your-sleep/

To answer the original question, a sleep divorce could be a practical solution to insomnia amongst couples. Before resorting to a sleep divorce, a better place to start is to look at your sleep routines and overall sleep hygiene. Try to curb sloppy sleep habits and come up with solutions that work for both you and your partner. Never be afraid or ashamed to talk to your doctor about sleep trouble – not only could it save your relationship but it could also save your life.

“Sound” sleep gets a new meaning

April – To students across the country, it’s a month of unwanted studying, cramming, and writing exams. It’s also a month when sleep gets put on the back-burner. There is promising news for those looking for a new technique to boost their memory, and it doesn’t involve pulling an all-nighter: A new study has found that exposure to sounds at certain times during sleep can boost memory formation.

Jan Born, a researcher at the University of Tubingen explained that previous research has found that memory consolidation occurs in sleep when brain waves are generating a slow oscillating rhythm. The new study, published in the journalNeuron, found that if a person is exposed to sound stimulation that is in sync with this rhythm, the oscillations become amplified and last longer – and hence memory is strengthened.

The researchers monitored 11 participants while they slept on various nights. When exposed to stimulating sounds that were in sync with the brain’s slow oscillating rhythms, the participants were better able to recall word associations they had learned the evening prior.

There is currently no commercial device that can mimic this study, however the research does offer interesting insight that could potentially lead to a commercial innovation.

While you may not be able to benefit from this study, yet at least, what you can do is make an effort to get a good night’s sleep–especially when you’re trying to remember a day’s worth of studying.  Several studies have linked sleep disruption to impaired memory, as per a previous blog posting: https://medsleep.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/interrupted-sleep-may-impair-memory/

Do your memory a favour and get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. And you never know, one day, you may be able to sleep “soundly” with a sleep-synced-sound-emitting device.