On Your Health

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Products To Help You Sleep

Sleep is good for the soul, but also for nearly every part of your body as well. In addition to reducing stress, inflammation and fatigue, getting a full 7-9 hours of sleep a night can help reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke, certain cancers and memory loss.

But according to the National Institutes of Health, 35 percent of Americans don’t get at least seven hours of sleep each night and roughly 20 percent have a sleep disorder.

There is no doubt Americans need to get more restorative sleep to keep their minds alert and their bodies healthy, so it’s no wonder the market has been flooded with products that might help you get more shut-eye. But which ones are effective?

For Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. Each pause can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and is usually associated with loud snoring.

It’s a serious concern for 18 million Americans (though only 20 percent have been diagnosed) and has been linked to increased risk of depression, fatigue, heart attack and stroke. You need to be tested by a sleep specialist or a physician to be diagnosed with sleep apnea, but many devices exist that “claim” to be of help.

CPAP - The most common sleep apnea device is the CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. A CPAP works by keeping the airways open and providing a stream of air through a mask. Currently, it’s the most effective way to treat sleep apnea, but for some it could cause discomfort like nasal congestion and irritation, headaches, and difficulty breathing through your nose. If you experience any discomfort, be sure to speak with your medical team for adjustments.

MAD - Another treatment for sleep apnea and snoring is a mandibular advancement device (MAD). A MAD is a dental appliance worn over your teeth at night that is designed to hold your tongue and jaw forward in order to open up the back of your throat and reduce airway obstruction. MAD is usually prescribed for mild cases of sleep apnea but could be an option for those who find CPAP devices too uncomfortable.

While many over-the-counter devices are available, it is recommended you have a MAD made by a qualified dentist or physician since an ill-fitting device could cause more problems. They're not generally recommended for more severe obstructive sleep apnea, although they may be an option if you're unable to tolerate using a CPAP device.

Soft palate implants are also available to make the roof of the mouth stiffer, to the palate from vibrating and causing an obstruction, but the National Institute of Health does not recommend this option due to the lack of evidence proving their effectiveness.

Do Supplements Work?

Your doctor is the best resource to advise on medical prescriptions to help you sleep, so we won’t talk about the options here. But perhaps you are thinking of trying an over-the-counter supplement?

The most common over-the-counter supplement suggested for sleep is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain that regulates the body's circadian rhythms. Some scientific findings show that melatonin can help you fall asleep faster and increase the duration of sleep. But because it is a supplement, the FDA does not regulate melatonin like it does medications and there is little study on the long-term effect on humans. Some users have reported depression and grogginess from the use of melatonin.

Valerian is another herbal supplement used to combat insomnia, but there is little proof of its effectiveness. While some limited research showed it could reduce the time needed to fall asleep, other studies showed no effect at all. 

Non-Medicinal Sleep Aids

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that millions of American struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep on a regular basis. If you’re having a problem, the first step is to make sure you’re creating an environment that makes deep sleep more likely.

  • Blackout curtains are extra thick curtains that block out light from outside your window. Since light is a major factor affecting sleep, these are a good investment for your sleeping area.
  • White noise machines can be helpful to cut out noise that can wake up light sleepers and are typically set at a frequency to keep your ears from picking up other noisy distractions. White noise machines are available at most electronic stores or online superstores.
  • Earplugs are a simple, affordable way to cut out noise that could keep you from falling asleep.
  • Humidifiers not only help moisturize your nasal passages to prevent dryness, but they also help alleviate snoring. Add a few drops of essential oils to the water to enhance a relaxed atmosphere and stop dry mouth or throat from keeping you from sleep.
  • Mattresses come in all shapes and sizes these days. Some can be adjusted for firmness and temperature. Do your research or ask a sleep specialist which mattress would be the most beneficial for you.

Calming Your Mind to Help You Sleep

Some people swear by breathing methods to relax the mind and body in preparation for sleep. One such method is the “4-7-8” breathing technique. To try this method:

  1. Put the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth and exhale through the mouth.
  2. Close the mouth and inhale through the nose while counting to four.
  3. Hold your breath and count to seven.
  4. Exhale loudly through the mouth for an eight count.
  5. Repeat at least three times.

Meditation is another natural way to prepare for sleep. Not only does meditation help calm worry and stress, it also boosts melatonin levels, which helps your brain prepare for sleep. 

Your smartphone can help encourage deep relaxation with a number of meditation and sleep-assisting apps like Calm or Headspace. Guided meditation while in bed has been proven to relax and calm a busy mind and could help with dozing off.

But one more note about your smartphone: The blue wave LED lights put off by smartphones and other electronics disrupts the natural sleep cycle of the brain. Turning off all electronics at least an hour before bed has been proven to help with quality of sleep.

Getting plenty of exercise or practicing yoga during the day also helps the body with sleep. However, some studies show that exercising at least three hours before bed could be detrimental.

A Note on Other Sleep Disorders

Other common sleep disorders include restless leg syndrome, REM sleep behavior disorder and narcolepsy.

Most of these disorders require physician treatment and, in some cases, prescribed medications. If you suspect you suffer from any of the above disorders, as well as insomnia or sleep apnea, you need to consult with your physician or sleep specialist for treatment options.

Finally, you should focus not only on getting enough sleep, but making sure you get high quality sleep. If lack of sleep is becoming a problem for you, our sleep programs at INTEGRIS are dedicated to alleviating symptoms and improve sleep patterns and daily life for people with sleep disorders.

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