Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wellness Wit and Wisdom

By Maureen Deutermann, MSN, R.N.
Director of Community Education

I will never forget the most horrid night’s sleep of my life. It happened the night I shared my daughter’s bedroom.

I only undertook this folly as an out-of-town guest was given the only habitable bedroom in the Deutermann hostel: my own. Just plowing my way to the spare bed was an athletic feat in itself. I finally managed to settle in among the dozen or so stuffed animals who were sharing the mattress. This was like sleeping in one of those catch-the-stuffed-animal cages at carnivals; I half expected to see a big black claw dangling overhead!

Even the “stuffy” brigade could have been overcome, but I still found myself wide-eyed most of the night. Why? The wall clock had a tick-tock that could have single-handedly raised Lazarus. Not to mention that the fan my daughter must have blowing at tornado speed (and sound!) in order to successfully catch her beauty rest was competing for the highest decibel award with the clock. I would’ve had a better night’s rest in the middle of a football stadium at half time.

While my worst sleepless night could be attributed to some extreme circumstances, lack of sleep is a common problem and most Americans don’t get enough. Some lucky people can get by on 5 hours of sleep, but the average adult needs 7-8 hours per night in order to stave off daytime drowsiness, and perform optimally on the job. One in four Americans reports getting an average of 6 hours of sleep or less per night. In fact, most adults report feeling sleepy during the day at least a few times monthly. About 75 percent of Americans report regular or occasional insomnia or other sleep-related disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.

The consequences of too little sleep include irritability, increased errors on the job, and slower reaction time. If you count yourself among the sleep deprived, here are some tips to get back on the road to healthy zzzz’s:

1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Sad to say, but trying to “catch up” by sleeping in on weekends doesn’t help. Naps are ok, but brevity is key here. Anything longer than 30 minutes can interrupt sleep schedule and cause grogginess.

2. Take stock of your sleeping atmosphere. Room temperature should be comfortable. This is an individual issue. My daughter obviously considers an igloo comfortable. I, on the other hand, prefer something a bit more temperate.

3. Minimize distractions; if I find myself in unenviable position of sharing my daughter’s room again, the clock is history, along with the plethora of stuffed animals. Either the fan or my daughter will have to go too. This is serious stuff!

4. Spending a lot of time at the computer may be hazardous to your sleep patterns. Take a break at least every hour; close your eyes, roll your shoulders, etc.

5. Cultivate your relationships. Loneliness breeds insomnia!

For help finding a sleep medicine specialist, call Sentara Potomac Hospital’s Health Connection referral service at 703-221-2500 or online at