A wake-up call for the sleep-deprived


March 21, 1995|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

When's the last time you got a really good night's sleep? You know, a full eight hours, waking refreshed and ready to take on the world.

Most Americans are sleep deprived. Unlike the "good old days" when people worked hard in the fields or the factories, went to bed early and were up at the crack of dawn, now people go to bed late and still have to get up early in time to commute to work.

Teen-agers often develop poor sleeping habits. They stay awake late watching television, talking on the telephone or catching up on their homework. Then they have to drag themselves out of bed at the last minute to get to school.

All this sleep deprivation may have negative health consequences. A new study from the San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center shows that interrupting sleep for a single night can lower immune system activity.

Researcher Michael Irwin, M.D., woke sleeping men up at 3 a.m. and kept them up until 7. Their "natural killer cells" (a measure of immune responsiveness) dropped 28 percent, but fortunately recovered quickly once the subjects were allowed to sleep through the night.

Tom longs for a night in which he could get a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. He often has a hard time falling asleep, but the worst problem for Tom is waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning and tossing and turning until dawn. He frequently falls asleep just in time for the alarm clock to wake him at 6:30.

Emily has a terrible time staying awake during the afternoon. She can barely keep her eyes open and relies on coffee to get her through the workday. Trying to pick up after her three kids and get her house clean keep her up late. Then she needs to jump out of bed early enough to get everyone organized for day care, school and work.

If such stories sound familiar, you, too, may be challenging your immune system and your health. Here is a checklist to see if you are chronically sleep deprived:

* Does it usually take you more than an hour to fall asleep?

* Do you awaken in the early morning and have trouble falling back to sleep?

* Do you have a hard time getting out of bed?

* Do you doze off during the day?

* Do you sleep in on weekends?

* Do you feel sluggish, drowsy or forgetful during the day?

If the answer to these questions is yes, you may be cheating yourself of valuable sleep. Here are some tips for fighting back:

* Don't load up on caffeine after 3 p.m., and avoid alcohol before bed.

* Do not watch TV or listen to late-night radio in bed.

* Exercise during the day.

* Learn to relax with a soothing bath or relaxation tape.

* Maintain a regular bedtime and get up about the same time every day.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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