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Educate public on healthy sleep habits
America is a sleep-deprived nation. According to research by the Alexandria, VA-based Better Sleep Council, work and family responsibilities frequently rob Americans of the sleep they need. Both men and women work full time and often have a three- to four-hour commute. Almost half have dependent children or an elderly adult at home, so their duties don’t end when they punch the time clock. Americans have added about 158 hours a month to their annual work and commute time since 1969.
Sleep is needed for physical and mental well-being and critical for maximum performance. Therefore, to raise awareness about the impact sleep deprivation has on health and help Ameri-cans improve their sleep habits, the Better Sleep Council declared May Better Sleep Month. "There are lots of different angles health care facilities can take to educate the public. You can look at your facility’s demographics and approach sleep from that perspective," suggests Andrea Herman, director of the Better Sleep Council.
Sleep deprivation affects all types of people
People who struggle with sleep deprivation include parents of newborns, the elderly, college students, shift workers, and working moms. Other educational angles that can be addressed during Better Sleep Month are environmental factors that hamper sleep and sleeping disorders.
Following is a list of topics that can be addressed during a brown bag luncheon or other community educational event:
• Restorative sleep.
A good night’s sleep is not always equivalent to eight hours. Sleep must be restful and uninterrupted to be restorative. Provide tips on how to get a good night’s sleep such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco products late in the day, says Herman. Developing a sleep ritual for bedtime provides cues for the body to begin slowing down. Establishing regular sleep hours helps, as well.
• Importance of sleep environment.
The atmosphere in which a person sleeps can either be conducive to sleep or a deterrent. People sleep best in a dark room because light is a time cue for day which signals wakefulness in the brain. Noise can disrupt sleep as well, especially if it is loud or sudden. The steady, low hum of the air conditioner or a fan can help block out noises and is soothing, according to the Better Sleep Council. People sleep best when the room is 60° to 65° F, and when they are sleeping on a mattress that provides firm support and allows them to move around easily.
• Sleep problems and aging.
Poor sleep is not part of the aging process. However, aging-associated health problems such as arthritis and heart disease, can impact sleep. Also, drugs used to treat medical conditions can interrupt sleep.
In addition, sleep patterns change as people age. The body’s circadian rhythms, or biological clock, advance a few hours, causing seniors to feel sleepy earlier at night and to wake earlier in the morning. Seniors should make adjustments in their sleep habits when those changes occur.
Lifestyle can improve sleep patterns
Other lifestyle habits that can ensure a better night sleep include moderate exercise, spending time outdoors during the day, and avoiding food and beverages with caffeine. Seniors should know that naps are not the answer to daytime drowsiness and can contribute to difficulty sleeping at night. Naps should be limited to 30 minutes or eliminated altogether.
• Teens need for sleep.
Teens, parents, and school officials need to know that teens require more sleep than children just a few years younger. Homework, extracurricular activities, or after-school jobs should not prevent them from getting eight to nine hours sleep a night. Another culprit for lack of sleep is a change in sleep patterns during puberty. Teens are more alert later in the day, but often must start school very early. Lack of sleep can contribute to poor grades, traffic accidents, and moodiness. Good sleep tips for teens include making sleep a priority, catching up on sleep when necessary, and creating a good sleep environment to ensure restful sleep.
See health professional for sleep disorders
• Addressing sleep disorders.
When a sleep disorder is the cause of sleep deprivation the best solution to the problem is to see a physician. The main symptoms of sleep apnea are persistent loud snoring at night and daytime sleepiness. Other sleep disorders include insomnia — trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting back to sleep; narcolepsy — a condition where people fall asleep uncontrollably during the day; and restless legs syndrome — a tingling sensation in the legs.
"There are lots of ways of breaking down your audience. There are childhood sleep issues, the angle of the woman trying to get it all done, and the unique needs of shift workers who are working against their biological clocks," says Herman. She suggests patient education managers planning an outreach program for Better Sleep Month look for ideas and information on the council’s Web site (www.bettersleep.org).
Most people who are having trouble sleeping blame stress; yet if they are taught to do a self-analysis, they might be able to find ways to get a better night’s sleep, says Herman. n
For more information on creating educational outreach programs for Better Sleep Month in May, contact:
• Andrea Herman, Director, Better Sleep Council, 501 Wythe St., Alexandria, VA 22314. Telephone: (703) 683-8371. Web: www.bettersleep.org.