Part 2: The Physical Health Benefits of Sleep

Health Professional

In this second part of our four-part series on sleep and heart disease, we explore sleep apnea and the physical benefits of a good night’s sleep with leading alternative health expert Bryce Wylde.

Sleep problems impact millions

An estimated 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems. If you suspect you may have a sleep disorder, a sleep study at an accredited sleep center is the best way to find out. A sleep study would include a sleep diary to track your sleep-wake pattern, your complete medical history, and a physical examination. If your specialist thinks you may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a hypersomnia such as narcolepsy, or a parasomnia such as sleepwalking or nocturnal eating, then he or she should recommend a sleep study. In many cases, the physician will recommend a home sleep apnea test if he or she suspects you have sleep apnea.

A standard in-lab sleep study (otherwise known as a polysomnogram) records information that enables the sleep physician to evaluate the sleep stages and their sequence during the night. The in-lab sleep study records EEG activity, eye movements, and muscle tone. The EEG data tells us how quickly an individual falls asleep. Airflow through the nose and mouth is recorded to figure out if there are abnormalities to help us determine whether sleep apnea is present. The simultaneous recording of heart rate, oxygen saturation, airflow flow, and respiratory effort enables us to analyze the types of breathing abnormalities present and their impact on oxygenation, cardiac function, and sleep quality.

The benefits of a good night’s sleep

Besides all the physical health benefits, sleep pushes the emotional reset button. When sleep is disrupted or inadequate, it can lead to increased tension, vigilance, and irritability. In fact, an inability to sleep — or getting too much — is one of the key signs of clinical depression. Having a sleep disorder does not in itself cause depression, but chronic sleep deprivation does play a role.

If you’re an athlete, improved sleep quality may be one simple way to improve your performance. And you may need a lot more than the average person! A Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina.

If you’re a parent, here is one of the most important findings: A study in the journal Pediatrics discovered that children who got less than eight hours of sleep a night were more likely to be hyperactive and inattentive, the hallmark of ADHD. And a major underlying cause? Something you'd never guess: snoring! The reality is that children between the ages of 10 and 16 who snore or have sleep apnea and other related sleep disorders are more likely to have problems with attention and learning, according to a recent study in the journal Sleep. The result is an inability to learn and remember what is taught. As you might assume, this goes equally for adults.

Lisa Nelson is a registered dietitian since 1999. She provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and on Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.