Genes may play a significant role in how much sleep we need. Scientists have identified several genes involved with sleep and sleep disorders, including genes that control the excitability of neurons, and "clock" genes such as Per, tim, and Cry that influence our circadian rhythms and the timing of sleep. Genome-wide association studies have identified sites on various chromosomes that increase our susceptibility to sleep disorders. Also, different genes have been identified with such sleep disorders as familial advanced sleep-phase disorder, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome. Some of the genes expressed in the cerebral cortex and other brain areas change their level of expression between sleep and wake. Several genetic models–including the worm, fruit fly, and zebrafish–are helping scientists to identify molecular mechanisms and genetic variants involved in normal sleep and sleep disorders. Additional research will provide better understand of inherited sleep patterns and risks of circadian and sleep disorders.
If melatonin doesn’t work or patients don’t want to take it, Barone suggests trying valerian root. A 2015 review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine concluded that “a few high-quality studies report modest benefits of valerian for insomnia patients,” adding that while the overall evidence remains mixed, the safety of valerian is well-established.
Generally, non-benzodiazepines have fewer drawbacks than benzodiazepines, but that doesn’t make them suitable for everyone. Some may find this type of sleep medication ineffective at helping them sleep, while the long-term effects remain unknown. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently directed the manufacturers of Ambien and similar sleeping pills to lower the standard dosage due to the serious risk of morning grogginess while driving, especially in women patients. Other side effects include:
Reducing sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night reduces daytime alertness by about one-third. Excessive daytime sleepiness impairs memory and the ability to think and process information, and carries a substantially increased risk of sustaining an occupational injury. Long-term sleep deprivation from sleep disorders like apnea have recently been implicated in high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
The exception to this rule is new parents who are sleep deprived over a long period of time while also not getting high-quality rest (studies show parents lose about 350 hours of sleep during their baby’s first year). In this case, any sleep you get will become more effective; you’ll be able to fall asleep more quickly and more soundly, and any amount of sleep, from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, will improve your functioning. In fact, your sleep schedule may change to one that is more productive for your current lifestyle, such as segmented sleep or polyphasic sleep as discussed below.
Sleep also is important for good health. Studies show that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep on a regular basis increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and other medical conditions. In addition, during sleep, your body produces valuable hormones. These hormones help children grow and help adults and children build muscle mass, fight infections, and repair cells. Hormones released during sleep also affect how the body uses energy. Studies find that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, develop diabetes, and prefer eating foods high in calories and carbohydrates.*
Go dark. It’s known that the light from a smartphone interferes with sleep. But what about your bathroom light? If you have the urge to go at night, don’t flick on the lights. “The latest recommendation is to use a flashlight if you need to get up at night,” Gamaldo says, because it offers less visual disruption. And remember: If you do wake up for a bathroom break, it might take up to 30 minutes to drift back off. This is completely normal, she says.
TEMPERATURE: This is a big problem, especially if you have a sleep partner. Everyone has different natural body temperatures, and usually men run hotter than women, but it can go either way. That can be a big issue if you have a different body temperature, because then no one’s happy. I wrote this article called “Split blankets, not beds,” where I said that you shouldn’t share the same comforter. Of course it’s nice to share, and I do that at some points, but it’s also important to have different bedding on your bed so you can have that lighter sheet or comforter to try to mitigate differences in body temperature. There’s also something called a chili pad. You put on half of your bed and it’ll dictate the temperature level on your half if you run at a different temperature than your sleep partner.
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