Sleep Matters

Newsflash: Sleep doesn't just make you feel more rested in the morning, it can also lower your risk of getting a cold this winter. Read on for an exclusive interview with sleep expert Dr Carol Ash on even more reasons you need your sleep.

Sleeping Woman

Sleep is essential for health

According to researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, those who sleep less than seven hours a night are nearly three times more likely to develop a cold than those who get eight or more hours of shuteye. "This study further supports just how important a consistent sleep schedule is to our health," says Dr Carol Ash, a leading sleep expert and medical director of the Sleep for Life center in Hillsborough, NJ. Here's what else Dr Ash had to say. Sheknows.com (SK): What does this study say about the importance of sleep?

Carol Ash (CA): It shows what those of us in the sleep field have been trying to stress for years: Less sleep impairs the immune system and has a direct physiological impact. If you don't get the right amount of sleep, you increase your risk of not only colds, but hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, and a slew of emotional issues as well. SK: And how much is the "right" amount of sleep?

CA: It really depends on the individual. Our DNA dictates the exact amount of sleep we need — but we should all get around seven to nine hours a night. SK: How do you go about figuring out your perfect amount of sleep?

CA: If you're getting seven hours a night and are still tired during the day, you probably need more. So bump it up to eight and stick to that schedule for two weeks. At that point, if you're still fatigued, go for nine and try that for two weeks. If you're getting more than nine hours a night and are still fatigued, that's when you need to see a specialist about a potential sleep disorder. SK: And what if you have difficulty getting in those crucial hours — any tips establishing a healthy sleep schedule? CA: For starters, you should go to sleep and wake up at the same time every single day—even on the weekends. What many people don't realize is that you can't catch up by sleeping in on a Saturday morning. That just resets your internal clock while you want to keep it on a consistent schedule. Then, make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool. Even the light from an alarm clock will interfere with the brains recognition that it's time to sleep. So for an uninterrupted night's sleep, remove any electronics that emit light or noise, and keep the temp cool. Avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine is also an important step to establishing a healthy sleep lifestyle. SK: Let's say out late at a party and don't get in your eight hours. How can you recover from a spotty night's sleep and get back on schedule?

CA: Staying out late with friends is similar to eating a piece of cheesecake when you're on a diet. It's easy — and fun — but you'll eventually have to face the consequences. If you're really trying to improve your sleeping habits, you have to recognize that it's a challenge and there will be sacrifices. So if you're going out with friends, call it a night earlier than you usually would. And if you slip up, just try to go back to your designated schedule as soon as you can and try to stick with it for at least 21 days — the amount of time it usually takes to change a behavior. SK: In your practice, are your patients who get sufficient sleep generally healthier?

CA: Absolutely. Speaking from personal experience, I wouldn't have been able to withstand the rigors of medical school or my residency without a healthy sleep lifestyle. Ignoring sleep is like ignoring oxygen — it's critical for life function.

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