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Put on Your Pajamas

January 24, 2013 - Dr. Greg Walsh

It is strange to think that one third of our lives will be spent in bed yet we hardly give any thought to the activity of sleep when it comes to our health. Over the years, studies on lack of sleep have been shown to increase our risk for diabetes, breast cancer, weight gain and stress. Many of us are sabotaging our own bodies by depriving ourselves of sleep. This health concern seems silly because sleep is (usually) a pretty easy thing to do. While a tough hour of swimming laps in the pool followed by a plate full of beets and greens may seem like a hassle, sleep is wonderful because it literally requires no effort.

Then why has the number of Americans sleeping fewer than seven hours a night doubled in the last sixty years? It is hard to say, but there are a few popular reasons:

1. Caffeinated drinks. Some experts have labeled caffeine as the only legal drug in America because of its similarities to heroin and cocaine. On top of it’s addictive qualities, it stays in our system for up to six hours after consumption. Not only does it affect our ability to sleep, but it often prevents us from entering deep (quality) sleep. There is strong evidence to suggest that our childhood and adolescent years establish our preferences for certain food and drinks. While soft drinks continue to thrive in areas outside of Mayor Bloomberg’s jurisdiction, energy drinks have quickly emerged as the drink du jour of many adolescents. An 8 ounce can of Redbull will contain more than twice the caffeine content of a 12 ounce can of Coca Cola. While helpful in allowing us to keep our eyes open for another three hours to get to our parent’s house at 4 a.m., caffeine can inhibit our ability to get that much needed sleep. Caffeine is all around us, from chocolate to sweet tea to Starbucks and needs to be moderated.

2. Netflix.

3. Obesity. This condition is tightly linked to sleep and has been nothing short of a plague on our country in the 21st century. Obesity hinders our ability to exercise and burn calories throughout the day, making it harder to get tired once bedtime draws near. On the flip side, when we lose sleep, it is more difficult to lose weight and gain feelings of fullness to limit the desire for consumption. We are awake more often which means more opportunities for eating. On top of that, our spouses end up losing sleep because obesity greatly increases the chance that we will be snoring throughout the night.

When we go to sleep, our brain puts our body into a state of paralysis (except for that minute before you go to sleep and start twitching called a hypnic jerk) and places an emphasis on helping our digestive and immune systems. It is an imperative time for everyone to be able to maintain and repair our bodies and should be touted more aggressively by our health leaders in the community.

To help ourselves, it is important to follow a few steps. First of all, limit caffeine consumption and maintain a healthy body mass index. Then think about the mattress you own and make sure that it is neither too soft nor too firm. There used to be an old adage that a hard mattress is great for a bad back but several studies have shown this is untrue. For those of you who sleep on your backs, place a pillow below your knees to maintain good pelvic posture. If you sleep on your sides, place a pillow between your knees. If you sleep on your stomach, stop sleeping on your stomach! Finally, get into a regular schedule where your biological clock becomes comfortable with a consistent time for sleep and wake.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to email me at


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