When it comes to maintaining a healthy body, sleep ranks among the top requirements along with a balanced diet and exercise. Yet, more than one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep whether it be fewer hours than needed or quality sleep. Sleep deprivation causes more issues than nodding off in a boring meeting.
“There are many consequences of getting too little sleep,” said Peter Franzen, PhD, director, Sleep and Behavioral Neuroscience Center at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Long-term sleep deficiency can lead to body and brain issues including a weakened immune system, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, diabetes risk, cancer and mental health issues.”
To treat patients with sleep deficiencies, determining the underlying cause is key. “There are a lot of reasons people get an insufficient amount of sleep or a lack of good quality sleep,” said Franzen. “It could just be their busy lives or there could be an underlying cause such as insomnia or sleep apnea. We have to sort that out to determine the best strategies for the patient.”
Franzen notes that the optimum number for most adults is seven to nine hours of sleep; for adolescents, that number increases to eight to 10 hours, with children and infants needing more. “It’s important to prioritize sleep, which can be challenging with occupational, family and social demands,” he said.
Adolescents experience particular sleep challenges thanks to a combination of biological changes that occur as they go through puberty. Couple that with incredibly early school start times, and you have a recipe for sleep disaster with an estimated 75 percent of teens not getting an efficient among of sleep.
Time to Catch Some Z’s
To get the sleep you require, Franzen suggests the following:
• Be active during the day to generate enough energy, which will increase your sleep drive. Exercise is very helpful to do this.
• Establish a wind down routine in the evening by switching to dim lighting, avoiding electronics, and easing your brain and body into a sleep-conducive state.
• If you prefer to read from a tablet, look for apps that block the blue light from your devices in the evening.
• Try to reserve your bed for sleep only—keep worries and other activities like being on the phone or watching TV out of the bed.
• In the morning, try to wake up at the same time each day. This practice stabilizes your body’s circadian rhythm.
Franzen adds that assuming you can make up missed sleep over the weekend won’t work. “Attempting to make up for lack of sleep during the week by sleeping in on the weekend creates a jet lag response,” said Franzen. “I recommend no more than one hour of extra sleep on the weekends to keep your biological clock in alignment.”
Deeper Sleep Issues
In cases of underlying conditions like sleep apnea, insomnia, sleepwalking, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy, it’s important to be evaluated by a sleep specialist to determine the best treatment options.
For example, Dr. John Pawlowicz III of Pawlowicz Dentistry in Mars, notes that there are additional concerns for the population of sleepers that are chronic mouth breathers.
“Our bodies naturally want to be in a state of relaxation by being calm and functioning in the most efficient way possible,” he explained. “When someone is a mouth breather, their sleep tends to be less than ideal because they lose their ability to seal their lips, which in turn prevents them from breathing properly through their nose.
“Nasal breathing is so important for the proper exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is critical for obtaining healthy, restful, peaceful restorative sleep,” he continued, adding that mouth breathers tend to sleep on their backs, which can be dangerous. Gravity can reposition the jaw in a backward direction, which can cause the tongue to move in the same direction. This can cause a partial or full obstruction of the airway.
Other whole body health conditions that can occur due to mouth breathing can include facial pain and headaches, as well as a higher risk of diabetes, weight gain, heart attack and stroke.
Dr. Pawlowicz notes that when a mouth breather holds their jaw partially open for extended periods, it can lead to strain on the jaw joints, improperly fitting tooth alignment due to tooth grinding or clenching, and other jaw issues that can be very painful. Having a well-trained dentist whose education is jaw muscle physiology and the movement of the jaws is essential in helping people with sleep breathing disorders and TMJ issues that arise from chronic mouth breathing during sleep.
Dr. Pawlowicz utilizes EMG (electromyography), which measures the influence of muscle forces needed to bite and chew, and to maintain a relaxed and calm position. He also uses 3D jaw tracking technology to see how a person opens and closes their mouth to further pinpoint where the muscles will be the most comfortable.
“We use our extensive experience with the highly specialized EMG measuring computer equipment and jaw tracking to determine if the patient is in a good or bad jaw position, and to tell if the muscles are tired from being contracted from overuse due to a bad bite position, continual clenching or nighttime grinding,” he said.
Once the EMGs determine the ideal jaw position for that muscle, a bite appliance is used to put the jaw in that position. “Making the muscle happy is the goal,” Dr. Pawlowicz said. ”The nighttime sleep appliance helps relieve sleep-related breathing issues by holding the jaw in the happy muscle’s place.”