Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sleep, the Neglected Lifestyle Child

I am reading The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night's Sleep, by William C. Dement, M.D..

Dr. Dement is one of the leading sleep experts in the country. He has done research at Stanford University and treated patients with sleep disorders for many years. Sleep deprivation is, according to Dr. Dement, one of the most serious public health problems in the U.S. Sleep disorders are very common, and often undiagnosed. We tend to underestimate the importance of a good night's sleep on our health.

Many traffic accidents, for example, are the result of sleep deprivation. In one study reported by Dr. Dement 23% of the respondents reported driving while sleep deprived. He cited his own near death experience when a cab driver, with Sleep Apnea, passed out while transporting him to an out of town meeting. How many commercial airline pilots, school bus drivers, air traffic controllers, cab drivers, surgeons, etc. are functioning every day without sufficient sleep?

Many sleep disorders go undiagnosed because physicians are not trained to look for them. Dr. Dement provides an interesting history of the development of "sleep medicine" and the development of the American College of Sleep Disorders. But, even today, this area of medicine is in its infancy.

When we sleep poorly, or do not get enough sleep, out bodies build up a sleep debt. Our brains keep a tally of sleep debt, which must be paid back. We know that in the short term sleep debt seriously hinders day-to-day performance. On famous study, by Thomas Wehr, Psychiatrist and sleep researcher, shows clearly that as sleep deprivation increases, level of performance decreases. We do not know, according to Dr. Dement, the long term price we pay for chronic sleep deprivation because more research is needed.

Our modern society, with its high levels of stress, work demands, and entertainment options, plays havoc with our sleep. Sleep is a "neglected child" and we need rethink our relationship with this critical element of our lifestyles. Sleep disorders are all around us and no one is safe from its potentially deadly consequences.

As I continue my research into this interesting and important lifestyle topic, I will report my findings on such topics as, how much sleep do we need?, what health problems has research shown to be linked with sleep disorders?, how can we alter our lifestyles to include consistent healthy sleep?, what are the danger signs of too little sleep?, what are the health benefits of good sleep habits?, and much more.

Dr. Dement equates good sleep habits with a good diet. By reading this book, I have developed an increased appreciation for the role of sleep in an overall healthy lifestyle.

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