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Sleep: It's good for what ails you

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April 23-29 is the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Awareness Week. The folks at the foundation want you to know that those who don’t get enough sleep, or work changing shifts and get irregular sleep put themselves at risk for all sorts of health problems.

And Maryland is among the most sleep deprived states in the nation, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.Dr. Susheel Patil, the Clinical Director for the Sleep Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, says sleep deprivation is a big and growing problem in the United States.

"There are statistics that we have from the NIH and the CDC that suggest up to 70 million Americans have some form of a sleep disorder," he said.

And he puts a lot of the blame for that on electronic devices large and small that emit enough light all night to trick our brains into thinking its day, altering our internal clocks and leading to chronic sleep deprivation. He calls them the "biggest bane of sleep physicians’ existence."

Just last year the CDC ranked Maryland the 3rd most sleep deprived state in America, just behind Hawaii and Kentucky in the number one and two spots.

Part of that problem, Dr. Patil says, is that "we think of ourselves as being stronger if we are able to do more in the face of less sleep."

So, folks who say they can get by with less sleep are only fooling themselves, he says. They are putting themselves at risk for impairments they aren’t even recognizing, like greater weight gain and higher rates of diabetes and hypertension.

"It’s a problem we really need to try to fix by getting people to get more sleep regularly."

Take, for example, Andrea Zmarandache, who is part owner of Ryan’s Daughter, an Irish pub in North Baltimore. She says she doesn’t get enough sleep and it’s all because of the irregular hours she works running a restaurant.

"These hours can change from day to day," she says. "Your body doesn’t’ really get used to the same schedule everyday like it would for a 9-5."

And sure enough, the food service industry is on the list of jobs in our 24/7 society that are at higher risk for health related concerns linked to insufficient sleep. Dr. Patil ticks off the list of others.

"…health care professionals, first responders, individuals, that have to work different shifts...” he says.

"Our biology is such that we crave sort of a consistency in repetition if you will. We were not necessarily designed to do night work on a regular basis."

But in our society, living tired seems to have become the "new normal." Fortunately, Dr. Patil has a self-correct tool for that.

"The first thing to recognize and tell yourself that sleep is important," he says. "My general advice for most people is that whenever you go to bed, you should have one hour period where you have no electronics, and give yourself as much sleep opportunity as you can. Seven to eight hours."

But what about those late-night TV shows you love so much? That’s what DVR recorders are for, he says.

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