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Help patients sleep better to live healthier

Nature Made
December 2, 2020
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Susan Mitmesser

While most Americans don’t spend much time thinking about sleep, many are not getting enough of it, and the consequences can include accidents, poor health and stress. SmartBrief recently spoke with Susan Mitmesser, VP Science & Technology for Nature Made, to find out more about the sleep problem in the US and how health care providers can help their patients sleep better.

Are Americans generally getting a healthy amount of sleep?

Many Americans are chronically sleep deprived as a result of demanding lifestyles and a lack of education about the impact of sleep loss. Almost half of Americans experience poor sleep quality, and one-third report trouble falling asleep or short sleep duration.

This in turn can have significant health consequences. For example, people with untreated severe obstructive sleep apnea are twice as likely to have a stroke. Additionally, the World Health Organization considers sleep disturbance a “probable carcinogen,” and higher rates of breast and prostate cancers have been seen in shift workers.

How much sleep should people be getting?

The National Sleep Foundation defines healthy sleep for young adults (ages 18-25) and adults (ages 26-64) as seven to nine hours per night. Essentially, we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, but that shouldn’t be thought of as “unproductive time,” since our quality of sleep plays a direct role in how full, energetic and successful the other two-thirds of our lives can be. To put it simply, we need sleep for optimal health and well-being, particularly mental and emotional health. 

What are some of the consequences of not getting enough sleep?

Sleepiness affects vigilance, reaction time, learning, alertness, mood, hand-eye coordination and short-term memory. It has also been identified as the cause of a growing number of on-the-job accidents, automobile accidents and multi-modal transportation tragedies. In the healthcare field specifically, more than 100,000 deaths per year are attributed to sleep-related medical errors.

There are longer-term health consequences, as well. Without sufficient sleep, the body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively sparking an immune response. One study found that subjects who had slept less than six hours a night the week before were 4.2 times more likely to catch a common cold than those who got more than seven hours of sleep, and those who slept less than five hours were 4.5 times more likely.

How are these issues linked to proper nutrition?

Research has highlighted an association between sleep and nutrient intake, and the nutrients associated with short sleep include calcium, niacin, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous and the vitamins A, B1, C, D and E. Making sure you are getting the right amount of these nutrients (via food and/or dietary supplements) is a step in the right direction.

How can health care providers support a healthy amount of sleep?

Health care providers should promote the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, along with good sleep hygiene, such as going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day, and exercising regularly, particularly in the morning or afternoon, can also improve sleep quality.

Patients should be encouraged to make up for any lost rest with naps. A 30-minute nap in the morning and another in the afternoon has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system. 

Finally, make sure your patients are eating well; if not, encourage them to fill any dietary gaps with supplements.  

Susan Mitmesser is VP of Science and Technology for Pharmavite, makers of Nature Made Vitamins and Supplements. Learn more at www.NatureMade.com.