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Recent Screenings Highlight the Prevalence of Sleep Disorders

In a previous post on this blog, we called attention to two recent commuter train crashes in order to illustrate the fact that inadequate sleep isn’t just unhealthy, it’s dangerous. In both of those crashes, one in New York in 2013 and the other just last year in Hoboken, NJ – it was determined that the engineers suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea, which apparently led to each man passing out on the job.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s findings led to reforms at both the Long Island Railroad and the New Jersey Transit Authority. Our previous post noted that LIRR had initiated screening of its employees for sleep disorders, and that by the last week of September, nine cases of sleep apnea had been identified after screenings were completed of just 34 individuals.

Now, the Associated Press has reported on similar screenings that have been completed on 373 New Jersey Transit engineers. Of these, 57 apparently showed signs of sleep disorders and were consequently taken out of service pending further testing and appropriate interventions. Although 13 were ultimately found to not have diagnosable disorders, another 41 were confirmed as having sleep apnea and then provided with treatment that allowed them to return to work.

The remaining three engineers are still out of service as they continue to suffer from sleep disorders that pose a risk to their health and well-being, as well as the safety of people around them. Their story should serve as a warning to other people, regardless of their professions, regarding the prevalence and potential severity of undiagnosed sleep disorders.

That warning may seem all the more serious when you consider the 13 individuals who were briefly removed from service, presumably for showing signs of fatigue. Even in absence of chronic disorders, poor-quality sleep can mimic the consequences of sleep apnea and pose its own danger, albeit a lesser one.

As we’ve emphasized many times in this blog, if you suspect you may suffer from a sleep disorder, it is imperative that you consult with a physician. But even if you’re getting inadequate sleep for other reasons, you may still face a significant threat to your health and safety. In that case, it is no less important for you to make a personal effort to address the reasons why you may not be getting good sleep, even if none of those reasons is sleep apnea.

An Extra Hour of Sleep after Daylight Saving Time? Not Necessarily

Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend. In the digital age, most people don’t have to worry about setting their clocks back, since computers and cell phones tend to do that for us. But that doesn’t mean that you should just ignore the transition and look forward to a little extra sleep when your phone’s alarm goes off an hour later on Sunday morning.

Of course, most people view the end of Daylight Saving Time as an opportunity to get an extra hour of rest. But in reality, it often doesn’t work out that way. In fact, a 2013 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews found that the week after the clocks “fall back,” people can actually experience more sleep deprivation than they would on a normal week.

The essential reason for this is because our bodies are often sensitive to changes in sleep habits, to which our circadian rhythms have to adjust. The effect of this adjustment can be particularly jarring for those of us who tend to get poor sleep regardless of added factors like moving the clocks forward or back.

As a result, many sleep experts recommend that you try to prepare your body for the change that comes on the first Sunday in November. This might entail going to bed slightly later – maybe fifteen minutes later – on Friday and sleeping that much later the following morning, then pushing your bedtime even later on Saturday night. Such changes might also be accompanied by comparable shifts in other parts of your routine, such as when you eat dinner.

Alternatively, if your sleep schedule isn’t too dependent on your work schedule, you have the option to not disrupt your circadian rhythms at all, by going to sleep and getting up at the same real time, regardless of what the clock says. In that case, the end of Daylight Saving Time will present you with an extra hour of morning activity before the world starts to wake up around you.

Whatever approach you take to making this adjustment, you should keep in mind that the changes will always be easier if your overall sleep hygiene is in order. If you have a comfortable mattress and a climate controlled room and you’re sleeping well throughout the year, you don’t have to worry as much about the disruptions that come from occasional, one-hour changes in routine. So if you do nothing else to prepare for the end of Daylight Saving Time, at least use it as an opportunity to examine your sleep health and make improvements as you are able.

Eating Habits, Sleep Habits, and Everlay

As we’ve pointed out previously on this blog, there are substantial connections between sleep health and overall health. Getting consistently good rest may safeguard you against common health problems like obesity, while also helping to regulate mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

But it’s important to note that this is not a one-directional relationship. Just as the quality of your sleep affects the quality of your health, so do your overall lifestyle choices affect the amount and type of rest you get at night. Prominent among these choices is your choice of diet. Although the research on this subject is still young, there is evidence pointing to various ways in which nutrient intake can alter sleep patterns.

When looking at how food can improve sleep, the first and most obvious guideline is to simply maintain a healthy diet. Common dietary mistakes like an excess of sugar, a lack of fiber, and a preference for coffee and beer over water, can all be linked to sleep problems. Sugar causes energy surges that can make it difficult to regulate periods of rest. Coffee can do the same if consumed too close to bedtime. And dehydration can interrupt sleep with dry mouth, leg cramps, and so on.

But whatever you diet consists of, researchers recommend the avoidance of abrupt changes, for the sake of maintaining or improving sleep quality. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t eat too close to bedtime, especially if your meal consists of heavy, spicy, or fatty foods. But if this is what you’re used to and it doesn’t seem to be directly impacting the quality of your sleep, you shouldn’t suddenly change your meal time. The timing of meals and rest periods are all closely intertwined at part of your circadian rhythms, and if you suddenly throw off one, you risk throwing off others.

If you’re the sort of person who has always eaten close to bedtime, you may particularly benefit from one of the minor features of the Everlay mattress: its removable cover. Again, we don’t recommend that the general public has meals in bed, but if you’ve gotten used to associating meal time with sleep time, at least you don’t have to worry as much about leaving crumbs behind in the morning as you would with most other mattresses.

Conversely, if you don’t eat at all in the late evenings and you find yourself struggling with sleep, you might actually want to start snacking at bedtime, since an empty stomach can be another source of wakefulness. Of course, the ideal solution is to adjust your eating habits so that your stomach is satisfied but not full by bedtime. But this is necessarily a gradual process, and if you need to keep a snack on your bedside table, the Everlay mattress offers you an extra layer of protection.