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Posts from the ‘Sleep & Your Health’ Category

Sleep and Sickness: Tips to better rest

Why is it that when we are sick and need rest the most, it is almost impossible to get?

Sleep helps to heal the body and improve the immune system, making it a vital part in recovering from sickness. Lying down can cause more congestion to occur making breathing more difficult. Additionally, this congestion can cause the need to breathe through the mouth, resulting in worsening cough or sore throat symptoms. By adjusting the sleep environment and carefully choosing medications, it is possible to make the most out of sleeping and allow sleep to heal your body.

Adjust Sleep Environment

When sick, it is the little things that will disrupt sleep the most. Make sure your sleep environment is ideal for a good night’s sleep.

  • Comfortable bed, pillow and light blankets will make it easy to fall asleep and adjust to temperature changes during the night.
  • Keep the room dark. Even the slightest light can be irritating when sick and disrupt sleep.
  • Keep the room comfortably cool. The idea is to not cause yourself to freeze, but to keep the temperature slightly lower than normal to help induce sleep.

Choosing Medication

Not all cold and flu medications will induce sleep as imagined. All medicines work differently with different people under different circumstances.

  • Avoid medication containing pseudoephedrine. This is commonly found in decongestants and can cause some to feel jittery.2
  • Nasal spray can help with congestion without attempting to induce sleep, making sleep more natural and fulfilling.
  • Avoid liquid medication containing alcohol as it will lead to fragmented sleep.
  • If suffering from sleep apnea, all sleep medications containing alcohol should be avoided so you are able to wake yourself if an episode occurs.
  • Until you are aware of your reaction to different medications, it is best to avoid them within 6 hours of bedtime.

Sleep Tips

  • Make sure to drink at least 64 ounces of fluid a day in order to help keep the nasal and throat passages hydrated. If you drink juice with vitamin C it will offer nutritional benefit.
  • Warm non-caffeinated beverages before bed can sooth sore throats and open nasal passages, helping to not disrupt sleep. Some suggestions are decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea with honey.
  • Try not to nap throughout the day. Doing this can confuse your circadian rhythm and make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
  • Avoid taking multi-symptom cold medicines if you must use medication at all. Using a single symptom medication such as a decongestant, cough medicine or pain reliever will contain more than enough medicine to sooth symptoms.
  • Elevate the head on a wedge pillow or two regular pillows formed into a wedge to not cut of air flow, but prevent the nose from becoming clogged at night.
  • Avoid using sleeping pills when sick, especially when teamed with other cold medication. Mixing sleeping pills with medications containing alcohol is very dangerous.


1. National Sleep Foundation—Sleep May be Best Prevention for Cold, Flu;

2. WebMD—Sleep Better When You Are Sick;

Avoiding Sleep Debt

People tend to think that once sleep is lost, it is gone forever. Many experts are saying that it is possible to catch up on sleep and is necessary to successful functioning of the mind and body. Sleep debt is sleep deprivation as it adds up and causes negative consequences such as weight gain, lack of focus, irritability, memory loss and fatigue. 1 Sleep debt does not go away on its own and can add up very quickly. Sleep requirements are different for different people; however, most individuals need between seven and nine hours of sleep to make up for 16 hours awake. 1

According to sleep expert and psychology professor Dr. James B. Maas, “You can’t repay years of sleep debt by one night of good sleep, any more than you can compensate for years of overeating by a one-day diet.” 1

Some of us can look back over the past month or year and see the sleep debt piling up. All those restless nights when you only managed to sleep for a few hours or waking up early to finish a project… We acquire sleep debt without even realizing that we have. In fact, because of the negative symptoms of being sleep deprived, the more sleep debt we have, the less our tired minds can notice how sleep deprived we have become. 2

The best way to repay sleep debt is by allowing yourself to recover from a sleepless week during the weekend. Most of us sleep late on the weekends, but we do not know exactly what we are making up for. If you miss 10 hours of sleep in a week, adding three or four hours to your weekend sleep schedule should help you recover from your debt. 2 Continuously planning on using the weekends to recover can cause you to accumulate more sleep debt and confuse your biological clock. This will also cause chronic sleep debt, which will only make it more difficult to return to sleep homeostasis. 3

If needing to repay a large sleep debt, it is suggested to take a relaxed vacation with very little activity planned and take the time to catch up on sleep and wake up naturally. 2 The most important thing is to avoid accumulating more sleep debt. By continuously allowing yourself to sleep as much as your body needs to, you will be preventing sleep deprivation and the harmful symptoms that come along with lack of sleep.


1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

2. Harvard Medical School—Repaying Sleep Debt;

3. WebMD—Sleep Debt Hard to Repay;

Acid Reflux (GERD) and Sleep Difficulty

If you wake up coughing and experience a burning in the chest, you a likely suffering from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or, more commonly, acid reflux. Acid reflux affects six to seven percent of the world population and is commonly dismissed as heartburn.


Main symptoms of GERD are heartburn, acidic regurgitation, inflamed gums, chronic bad breath and belching. Because of acid buildup in the body, it is not uncommon for tooth enamel to deteriorate.

Some individuals may not experience any symptoms at all. Many of the symptoms of GERD may be confused with heart problems, therefore misdiagnosis is common.

Those with acid reflux symptoms should also be tested for sleep apnea as the disorders seem to occur simultaneously, especially in overweight individuals. Traveling may also increase GERD symptoms. Fifty percent of travelers say that in addition to jet lag they suffer from gastrointestinal issues. 2 This is possibly due to eating during times you would normally be sleeping.

Overcoming GERD

  • Elevate the upper body during sleep. This can be done with special wedge pillows, adding blocks under the mattress or purchasing an adjustable bed.
  • Do not lie down immediately after eating a large meal.
  • Avoid eating within three hours of bedtime. This is recommended for all individuals who experience trouble sleeping.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that increase acid in the stomach such as chocolate, onions, spicy food, citrus fruits, soft drinks, alcohol, caffeine, vinegar, ketchup, mustard and fatty foods.
  • Some medications are calcium-channel blockers such as aspirin and other pain killers, which can worsen acid reflux symptoms.3 Check with your doctor before stopping any medications.
  • Do not wear night clothes that fit tightly around the chest, stomach or waist as they can irritate GERD symptoms.
  • Laying on the left side of the body has been proven to help with digestion. 3
  • Smoking may irritate symptoms and cause other sleep disruptions.
  • Chewing gum in the evening can increase saliva production. Saliva counteracts stomach acid.
  • If overweight, losing weight may be the best way to reduce symptoms.
  • Treatments include over-the-counter medications, prescription medications and antacids that prevent acid buildup and help to heal the esophagus. Surgery typically follows if medications do not prove effective.

Acid reflux is among the main causes of disturbed sleep in middle-aged individuals. 1 While inconvenient, GERD is not an unmanageable disorder. Simple lifestyle changes can reduce painful symptoms as well as more intensive medication use or surgery.


1. National Sleep Foundation—GERD and Sleep;

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

3. WebMD—Tips for Sleep without Heartburn;

Memory Retention and Sleep

Among the many other functions of sleep, memory formation and retention is perhaps the most important. The brain processes memories in two ways: through helping learn and focus and through helping with memory retention and recall. 1

The brain must go through a process that allows memories to be created and restored. First, acquisition or the actual learning or performing a new task must occur. Next, consolidation or making the memory stable in the brain occurs. Finally, recall or the ability to access a memory is the completion of the memory. Researchers feel that consolidation must happen while asleep. 1

Any college student will report at least one instance of pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam or finish a project, but how effective is this method? College students are among the most sleep deprived in the nation, presumably because newly established freedom, class and work load and social pressures.  Sleep deprivation on its own will reduce mental functioning, and, therefore, pulling an all-nighter is counterproductive. Many studies have been done all concluding that, while immediate recall of information is possible, retention is ultimately nonexistent. Staying up all night and “cramming for an exam will not be nearly as effective for students as the same amount of effort followed by a good night’s sleep.

The same intense neuron firing during REM sleep that is thought to produce dreams is also responsible for aiding in memory retention. This explains why we may dream of things that happen the previous day.2 REM sleep is vital to the memory making process as shown by PET (positron emission tomography) scans of the brain. There is a great deal more brain activity during REM sleep after a period of intensive learning such as college students studying for finals (those who decide to sleep, that is).

Sleep apnea is also thought to have a negative effect on memory retention because of the frequent disturbances in the sleep that occur during apnea episodes. 1 The obstruction of oxygen actually destroys tissue associated with retaining memories in the structures called mammillary bodies. 3 Patients with Alzheimer’s disease also show shrunken mammillary bodies. During an episode, the blood vessels in the brain constrict killing cells and tissue.

In addition to the list of health benefits gained from sleeping, memory retention is also aided by adequate sleep. Through sleeping and getting help with sleep breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, you can insure that you are remembering and retaining information.


1. WebMD—Sleep Deprivation Effects on Memory;

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

3. University of California at Los Angeles Newsroom—Study links sleep apnea to memory loss;

Are Sleeping Pills Safe?

Sleeping pills have possible negative effects on your body and your sleep. Those with insomnia or experiencing jet lag may find the use of sleeping pills an effective way to combat symptoms. Similar to alcohol, sleeping pills seem to aid in falling asleep and having a deep sleep when they actually produce a disrupted, fragmented sleep that can cause one to feel drowsy during the day. 1 It is important to figure out which medication, if any, would work best for your particular sleep situation.

Common Side Effects:

All medications have side effects, and sleeping pills’ side effects tend to happen more outside of sleep. Some side effects include:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Loss of balance
  • Appetite changes
  • Tremors
  • Constipation/Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Unusual dreams
  • Fatigue

Some side effects will be worse for certain individuals, especially those with existing disorders.


Sleeping pills have been proven to work well when used over a short period of time of no longer than six months; however, after an extended period of time, your body will begin to develop a dependence on the medication. 1 This dependence is found in addictive medications such as Benzodiazepines (the type of pill most often prescribed for insomnia). Benzodiazepines are typically anti-depressants and cause drowsiness.  2

Medication to help with sleep should never be taken when pregnant. This is because the same addictive qualities that cause adults to become dependent on medication can also happen to a child. No sleeping medication has been proven to be safe for unborn children.

Even after just a few nights using a sleeping pill the body begins to depend on the medication making it harder to attempt to sleep without it. Minor withdrawal symptoms such as bad dreams and worse insomnia than before use of the medication may occur just a few days after beginning use. 1

While some medications are being developed that claim to be non-habit forming, all medications used consistently will strengthen your tolerance to them requiring more of the medication for the same effects. 2 Any medication is excess is harmful to the body.


If suffering from a respiratory disorder such as asthma or sleep apnea, sleeping pills and accelerate the problem and make breathing more difficult. This is because some sleeping pills are respiratory depressants. Additionally, complications with sleep apnea and depressants such as sleeping pills and alcohol have been reported to cause the individual to be too medicated to realize they have stopped breathing so the body’s natural reaction that corrects the problem is subdued. Additionally, taking a sleeping pill regularly before determining the cause of the insomnia can make it difficult to every identify the true problem.


It is advised to always talk to your doctor before using any sort of sleeping pills. Some sleeping pills can have extremely negative side effects, and, because all individuals respond differently to different medications, it is extremely important to insure sleeping pills are the right choice for you. It is best to take less extreme measures when it comes to sleep such as making the bedroom more conducive to sleep or considering natural sleep remedies such as melatonin, herbal teas or aromatherapy. Sleeping pills should always be the last option. When using sleeping pills, it is necessary to read all directions and side effects so as to not unintentionally misuse the medication.


1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

2. WebMD—Understanding the Side Effects of Sleeping Pills;

Health Benefits of Sleep

We are all aware that sleep is “good for us”, but how does the one-third of our lives spent sleeping really benefit us? Chronic sleep deprivation can result in a number of harmful disorders as well as making overall life quality suffer.

1. Restoration of Memory

Sleep is vital to the formation and recall of memories. During REM sleep, dreams are used to help consolidate memory. 1 Without the vital rest the brain needs to create memories, retention and recall of events and information will be severely affected. For instance, staying up all night to cram for an exam will result in short term recall, but no long term memory because the brain never had a chance to store the information as a memory.

2. Prevent Sickness and Flu

Sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system making it not as capable of fighting disease such as influenza. Lack of sleep can alter the functioning of the body’s white blood cells used to fight infection. Therefore, lack of sleep can lead to various other sicknesses further preventing sleep.

3. Helps to Fight Obesity and Increase Metabolism

Obesity, a growing problem in the world, has been shown to have a connection with sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation causes the body to crave foods with higher calorie and carbohydrate content to make up for lack of energy. 1 Lack of sleep also decreases metabolism at a rate that mimics metabolic rates of aging. As sleep affects obesity, obesity also affects sleep. Many of those suffering from sleep apnea are overweight and fix their sleep problems by exercising.

4. Restoration and Repair of the Body and Mind

After exercising or exerting yourself in any way, the body’s muscles become tired and need recovery time. Sleep is the time your body and mind use to repair muscles and tissues and improve the body’s functioning. By giving yourself the adequate amount of sleep, you are also restoring your body to its optimal state of functioning.

5. Reduces Stress and Stress-related Symptoms

Stress can bring on severe mental and physical problems such as depression, cardiovascular disorders and high blood pressure. Studies have shown that sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, that result in fragmented sleep can cause increased stress and increase risk for heart problems. 2

6. Improves Mood

Without adequate sleep, it is likely that most will experience an increase in irritability. Sleep deprivation causes stress, anger and overall feeling of mental exhaustion. In addition to the natural grogginess felt when deprived of sleep, individuals will also typically refrain from social interaction and be difficult to work with.

7. Energy and Alertness

Daytime drowsiness causes decreased alertness and increased safety risks. For example shift workers (nightshift/irregular shift workers) are extremely sleep deprived. These workers tend to have more accidents on the job than workers who keep regular hours because of lack of alertness and energy. 3

Sleep is vital to well-being and health. Many of the above factors affect each other and can all be improved by simply exercising healthy sleep habits. Sleep makes everyone happier and healthier and contributes to productivity in our day-to-day lives.


1. Medical University of South Carolina—Sleep Health Benefits;

2. Harvard Medical School—Health Publications: Importance of Sleep and Health;

3. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

Does Turkey Make Us Sleepy?

TV Dreams


Every year we hear claims that turkey, the main star of our Thanksgiving feast is causing food induced comas, but are they really the culprits? The answer is no, while Turkey does contain an amino acid called tryptophan, it isn’t enough to actually make you sleepy. Tryptophan is one essential amino acid of nine, essential meaning the body cannot produce it on its own, and these essential amino acids need to be found in our diets. The body needs Tryptophan found in food to help produce the B-vitamin niacin, which is what helps the body produce serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical best known for helping us sleep, and is often used as over the counter sleep aid. While all of this sound like turkey is the reason we feel sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner, it isn’t, studies have found over the past several years that Tryptophan has to compete with 20 other amino acids to make it past the blood-brain line. “Tryptophan is taken to the brain by an active transport system shared by a number of other amino acids [the chief components of proteins], and there’s competition among them—like a crowd of people trying to get through a revolving door,” said Simon Young, a neurochemist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. By the time tryptophan makes its way to the brain there isn’t a substantial enough amount to be the cause of our sleepiness, an average serving size of turkey only has 350 milligrams of tryptophan and in reality we need around 1,500 to make us sleepy. Also, it is well noted that chicken, fish, milk, and beans have high levels of tryptophan as well, and we don’t hear multiple reports of sleepiness or “food coma” from them.

There are a couple different reasons why we may feel the need for a Thanksgiving Day nap. This year AAA projects 93.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving Holiday. Traveling alone is enough to wear people out, even more so when you add the stress of cooking a big meal, and then consuming it can tip people over the edge. While the most likely cause for feeling sleepy is the amount of carbohydrates and food we consume during Thanksgiving dinner. Americans enjoy plenty of carbohydrates during their Thanksgiving dinners such as bread, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and pies. As a result the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3,000 calories. Consuming this many carbohydrates causes an increase in serotonin in the brain even though tryptophan can’t be found in the carbohydrates, unlike turkey. Lastly, many families like to enjoy alcoholic beverages with their Thanksgiving meals which can really add to the sleepiness due to its sedative effect. So there’s no need to blame the turkey, just be thankful for having a Thanksgiving Day meal, and the sleep that may come with it!




FDA. “Information Paper on L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan.” (2001): n. pag. U. S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <;.

“” N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

“NewsRoom.” Thanksgiving Travel Forecast. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

“Thanksgiving Mystery: Does Turkey Make You Sleepy?” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

“Does Turkey Make You Sleepy?: Scientific American.” Does Turkey Make You Sleepy?: Scientific American. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.


Sleep Fact #37

The word mattress is derived from the Arabic word matrah meaning “to throw down.”


Your Guide to the Perfect Mattress

Choosing a mattress is ultimately left to personal preference, although it has been shown that certain mattresses can increase comfort and restful sleep in certain situations. For instance, different sleep disorders affect people in different ways, making finding an ideal bed a difficult process. Mattresses can have a significant impact on quality of sleep, especially if coping with a sleep disorder or back pain.

Sleep Disorders:

  • Fibromyalgia: These patients have extremely sensitive joints and experience fatigue and sleep deprivation because comfort is hard to come by in a mattress. Latex and memory foam mattresses are good for these patients because they reduce the amount of stress on the pressure points. 1
  • Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea or chronic snoring is common in overweight individuals and those who regularly sleep on their backs. Because of these factors, a thicker mattress may be necessary to ensure it holds to the test of time.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome: These individuals require a bed that is not too soft as it takes more energy to move in an overly-soft bed. 1
  • Insomnia: Insomnia can be attributed to many different factors, both psychological and environmental. A common cause is heat, a reoccurring problem with memory foam mattresses. Cooling Gel memory foam mattress toppers or mattresses may help with inability to sleep. Additionally, the Outlast Bedding line will assist with heat regulation.

Other Circumstances:

  • Back Problems/Spine Injury: A firmer mattress may help keep spine aligned. Soft mattresses can cause the spine to dip. Most memory foam mattresses teamed with the correct pillow for your sleep position will keep the spine aligned helping to relieve injury.
  • Elderly: Some elderly individuals may prefer a firmer mattress in order to make it easier to get in and out of bed.
  • Osteoarthritis: Adjustable beds may help these individuals open up the back when used with both the upper body and knees elevated. It is also said that mattresses that are too firm can increase pain and injury in the back. 2
  • Overweight: Heavier individuals should use a firmer mattress, as they are more likely to sink down into a mattress lacking adequate support. 1

Overall, mattress firmness will be a matter of preference, although choosing a mattress that is too firm or too soft can have very negative effects on spine alignment and increase back and neck pain. The ideal mattress to benefit will be a medium firm, but not so firm it is uncomfortable. Choosing a mattress that does not personally offer you a great deal of comfort will not help with restful sleep, not matter its positive impact on back and spine health.


1. Haex, Bart. Back and Bed: Ergonomic Aspects of Sleeping. Boca Raton: CRC, 2005.

2. Spine-Health—Mattresses and Sleep Positions for Each Back Pain Diagnosis;

Does Exercise Help You Sleep Better?

Exercise benefits the body and mind in many ways, one being sleep ability. The National Sleep Foundation’s study showed that those who participated in the national guideline of exercise (150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week) showed a 65 percent increase in sleep quality. 1 Physical activity and sleep go hand in hand, and proper integration of both can result in improved overall feeling of well-being.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercises include running or jogging, biking, swimming, skiing, tennis, dancing and any other activity requiring a great deal of movement. This active fashion of exercise has shown to drastically improve overall quality of sleep including ability to fall asleep and waking up refreshed. 3 Aerobic activities are thought to give the body more energy, so avoid doing them close to bedtime.Exercising regularly is vital to its success. Stopping exercise for just 72 hours can result in beginning of deterioration of fitness. 2


Yoga has been proven to help relax the mind and body. The stretching in yoga can help prepare the mind and body for bed, especially if a harder workout occurred earlier in the day. Sleep disorders such as insomnia and restless legs syndrome have been shown to have reduced symptoms when doing yoga prior to bedtime. Yoga has been proven to help relieve stress and though yoga poses may not help you shed unwanted body weight, they will help you prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Effects of Regular Exercise

Regular exercise can help improve heart and lung functioning as well as increase the production of endorphins (natural mood enhancers produced by the brain). Endorphins help to reduce pain, relax muscles, suppress appetite and increase overall well-being. 2 Participants in a study conducted by Northwestern Medicine reported overall decreased depressive symptoms, increased vitality and less daytime drowsiness. 3

Just as exercising helps with sleep quality, sleep helps with effectiveness of exercising. No exercise regimen will be successful without the adequate amount of recovery time. Sleep will allow for higher levels of alertness and more energy, making exercise as fulfilling as possible.

Exercising only helps to induce sleep when practiced around six hours before bedtime. If exercising too close to the time you would like to go to sleep you may experience increased alertness and insomnia. Additionally, the body takes around fix to six hours to cool itself down to normal temperature after a workout. If exercising too close to bedtime, increase body heat can cause restlessness. The body’s natural cooling can help to lull individuals to sleep as cooler temperatures have shown to help with sleep quality.

Increasing amount of exercise can provide a cheaper, less dangerous and more effective alternative to sleeping pills and their potential side effects when treating insomnia. When considering increasing physical activity, be sure to check with your doctor if you have any medical conditions that could result in injury when too intense of activity is attempted.


1. National Sleep Foundation—Study: Physical Activity Impacts Overall Quality of Sleep;

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

3. Northwestern University—Aerobic Exercise Relieves Insomnia;