Sleep was in the news throughout 2011, with breakthrough research and advances in our understanding of why we sleep, and how sleep -- or a lack of it -- can affect health and wellbeing. Here are my picks for the most interesting and important sleep stories from the second half of 2011, with practical sleep suggestions you can start using today.
Sleep suggestion: Your doctor's sleep matters to your health
This year, changes went into effect that put new limits on the amount of time first-year residents can work without time off. Previously, these residents were able to work for as much as 30 hours straight! Now, first-year residents can work no more than 16 hours at a stretch without an eight-hour break. These changes are welcome and overdue, a start in what I hope will be a continued shift away from the sleep-deprived culture of medical training. The truth is that sleep-deprived doctors are less capable of retaining information, and long resident hours are associated with greater incidence of preventable medical errors.
Sleep suggestion: To keep your kids at a healthy weight, make sure they get enough sleep
Researchers in New Zealand working with children ages three to seven found that additional sleep reduced the children's risk of becoming overweight and led to lower BMI. Helping kids to develop strong sleeping habits from a young age is a long-term investment in their health, and can help protect them from a host of health risks associated with obesity.
Sleep suggestion: Don't assume your sleep needs are the same as your mate's
Gender differences in sleep were a hot topic this year. New research suggests that men and women do have basic, biological differences in their sleep. These differences offer up specific types of protection -- women seem to weather mild sleep deprivation better than men, whereas men appear to be somewhat less vulnerable to sleep disorders. The differences in the way men and women sleep also make each more vulnerable to certain risks.
Sleep suggestion: Want to protect your teen's health? Start by protecting their sleep
A landmark study published in 2011 showed lack of sleep among teens is strongly associated with a long list of risky and unhealthful behaviors. The list includes smoking, drinking, drug use, overeating, avoiding exercise, depression and suicidal thoughts. Teens that slept fewer than eight hours per night were at a greater risk for engaging in these behaviors than teens that slept for at least eight hours or more. The message couldn't be clearer: Make sure your teens are getting sufficient sleep, at least eight to nine hours per night.
Sleep suggestion: Want to avoid weight gain? Go to bed early
Sleep timing has an effect on diet and weight gain, according to this study published in 2011. Researchers at Northwestern University found that late bedtimes lead to late mealtimes, and that sleeping later and eating later make poor diets and weight gain more likely. In the study, sleeping less, going to sleep later in the night and eating more heavily after 8 p.m. were all associated with higher BMI. If you're looking to trim up in the new year, shifting your bedtime back -- and staying away from the refrigerator after 8 p.m. -- can help.
Sleep suggestion: A good night's sleep may reduce your risk of fibromyalgia
The relationship between sleep and pain has become a hot topic in sleep studies -- with good reason, since there seems to be a strong relationship between the two, one that we're just beginning to understand. Studies such as this one, which suggests a link between sleep deprivation and the risk of fibromyalgia, are helping to increase our understanding of how sleep and pain interact in the body. This study demonstrated as much as a five times higher risk of fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic pain, among women who reported frequent sleep problems.
Here's to a new year filled with good health and good sleep!
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
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