A recent headline, "Common sleeping pills muffle your sleeping brain's 'intruder alert,'" made us think of the saying, "You snooze; you lose." But while that may be true when you're behind the wheel or sleepwalking from sleeping pills, it couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to the importance of good sleep for good health.
This is a serious issue, because 35 percent of U.S. adults aren't getting the needed seven hours of shut-eye nightly, according to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. South Dakotans were most likely to get enough sleep—fully 72 percent do! Hawaiians get the least; only 56 percent report seven hours nightly. And 48 percent of Americans have occasional insomnia, while 33 percent say it's a nightly or near-nightly torment.
No wonder Americans spent $230 million on over-the-counter sleep meds—accounting for 85 percent of sleep aids used. The other 15 percent are prescription meds such as Ambien and Lunesta. A CDC report found that about 4 percent of U.S. adults (almost 10 million people) used prescription sleep aids in the past month.
Eyes Wide Open
A combination of two factors is making a good night's sleep ever more rare, and making sleep itself risky business! Fortunately, you can change that—but first, those two
1. A dysfunctional stress response is the No. 1 sleep destroyer, making it hard to fall asleep and triggering disturbing dreams. Then, lack of sleep boosts your levels of stress hormones, and you're in a vicious cycle.
An American Psychological Association 2017 survey, called "Stress in America," found that money, work and the future of the nation (in terms of health care, the economy, crime, climate change and terrorism) rank as the top three stressors. A Gallup poll found that 44 percent of adults say they frequently feel stressed during the day; 35 percent say they sometimes do.
2. Chronic pain is a close second. Fifty million Americans deal with persistent pain and around 20 million have "pain severe enough that it frequently limits life or work activities."
That's why so many folks depend on OTC and Rx pain meds to control pain and sleeping pills to help them snooze.
In fact, the number of Americans taking both pain-killing opioids (like Percocet or OxyContin) and benzodiazepines (such as Valium or Xanax—commonly prescribed for insomnia as well as for pain and anxiety) increased by 250 percent over a 15-year period. And there was an 850 percent increase in patients taking other benzodiazepines and so-called Z-drugs (Ambien and Sonata) on the same nights, according to a new study published in the journal Sleep. That's millions of people, say the researchers, who are at serious risk for addiction/dependency, as well as breathing problems and early death.
Another risk: Benzodiazepines may help you sleep, but researchers from Japan who tested this in mice say they also make it so you'd sleep through an intruder, fire or earthquake! No wonder these drugs are called hypnotics.
For Better Z's
1. Move. No matter what your physical abilities, use your legs for at least 30 minutes a day. Get up and move around every 20-30 minutes when sitting. Over time, increase your physical activity to include interval aerobics (5 or more days a week) and strength training (two times a week).
2. Meditate. Set aside 12 minutes a day to meditate. Be quiet—no cells, no music, no internet. Sit in a comfortable position with good posture. Breathe in through your nose slowly for four seconds and exhale slowly through an open mouth for as long as you can. Build to eight seconds. Repeat the breathing rhythm while you let your mind drift. Recognize thoughts as they appear, and let them go. Say "Om-m-m," and you'll feel clearer and stronger.
3. Make the bedroom sleep-ready: No light (except nightlights emitting red wavelengths). No TV or phone. Use earplugs and eyeshades to limit light and sounds; maintain cool temp; use warm blankets.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit sharecare.com.
(c)2019 Michael Roizen, M.D.
and Mehmet Oz, M.D.