The insomnia wakeup call: Sleep deprivation is a serious health risk

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, April 15, 2012

(ARA) – It’s 3:30 a.m. and you’ve just rolled over in bed for what seems like the 500th time. As you watch the minutes on the clock tick by, all you can think about is how tired you are going to be tomorrow. While the cause of your insomnia may vary night to night, the outcome is still the same: you’re not asleep. You’re also not alone.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that somewhere between 50 and 70 million adults in the United States have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders.

According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep disorders account for approximately $16 billion in annual health care costs, and Cornell University psychologist and sleep expert James Maas estimates that sleep deprivation and sleep disorders cost the American economy at least $150 billion a year.

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Sleep deprivation is not only costly, but dangerous too. After a review of national behavioral health data, the CDC found that one in 20 adults reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in 30 days.

Short term sleep loss can lead to slower reaction times, headaches, aches and pains, irritability, shorter attention span and hindered decision making.

The health effects of chronic insomnia are more difficult to study, largely because individuals with insomnia are oftentimes simultaneously suffering from other health ailments, and it becomes difficult to determine the difference between a direct correlation and a mere statistical association. However, there is documented association between sleep deprivation and diabetes, weight gain, hypertension, and lower immunity. All of these maladies can lead to even greater health problems, including heart failure, stroke, kidney disease and death.

Considering the risks of not sleeping, it is not surprising that so many people turn to pharmaceuticals for help. According to IMS Health, Americans spent about $2 billion on prescription sleep drugs in 2010. In 2010 alone, 60 million prescriptions for sleep aids were written.

Unfortunately, sleep aids carry their own medical risks. As is the case with many prescription drugs, there is a chance of increased tolerance and physical and psychological dependency. Many sleep aids on the market come with side effects that range from bizarre to dangerous. Sleep aids have been connected with various incidents of sleep walking; everything from night eating to actually getting into vehicles and driving, while still asleep.

Most recently, a study by researchers at Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Centre in San Diego has linked hypnotic sleeping pills to a 4.6 percent greater risk of death and a 35 percent increased risk of cancer among regular pill users.

So is there another answer to alleviating insomnia? Maurice Bard, founder and CEO of Mediflow Inc., a company that makes waterbase cervical pillows, is hopeful. “Before turning to prescriptions or other more drastic measures, you should examine some non-pharmaceutical remedies that could help your sleep problems. The answer to your insomnia may be simpler than you think.”

Consider the following sleep tips:

Think of a relaxing place

Go on a virtual trip in your mind by picturing a place from childhood. Trace the roads and paths of this region until you arrive at a certain place. Usually, you’ll be sleeping before you arrive at your destination.

Expose yourself to bright lights when you wake up

Exposure to bright light early in the morning, typically for 30 to 40 minutes, has been shown to promote healthy habits and a good night’s sleep.

Change your pillow

The ideal pillow is one that helps you maintain natural alignment between your neck, head and spine as you shift positions during the night. Because people tend to change sleeping positions at multiple times during the night, finding the right pillow is not always easy. A waterbase pillow is a good solution, because the water gently disperses and fills the region between your shoulder and jaw, to maintain proper cervical support – no matter what position you sleep in.

Establish a routine

By keeping a regular bedtime, your body becomes trained to ritually wind down and speed up, thus bringing on sleep more consistently. Consider avoiding daytime naps, as they may alter your body’s natural sleep cycle. Abstaining from naps helps to keep the body on schedule.

“There is no single answer to insomnia,” Bard says. “But at Mediflow, we understand the importance of a good night’s sleep. We firmly believe that combining the right products with a healthy lifestyle can help individuals create an overall sleep strategy that should help lessen sleep woes.”