ACR 2011: Learning the Importance of Sleep

NOVEMBER 06, 2011
Sean Johnson
James B. Maas, PhD, is a Cornell University professor who knows a heck of a lot about sleep and how it impacts our bodies. But this session focused less on how rheumatology was involved (although Maas did say it was up to rheumatologists to find the proper medication that would not impact their patients’ sleep patterns), and more on the general need for a proper night’s rest.
Maas’ accolades were well documented. He coined and defined the term “power nap;” he wrote New York Times best selling book about sleep based on endless amounts of studies. He has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey show to talk about his findings. And he is regularly involved with professional sports teams (the NBA’s Orlando Magic, NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, and NFL’s New York Jets, to name a few) and individual athletes when it comes to teaching them proper sleeping habits that can help positively (and dramatically) improve their abilities.
But Maas clearly knows that, aside from teenagers and college students (who, aside from insomniacs and sleep apnea patients, have the worst sleep habits by far), health care professionals need help the most. When he asked the crowd what amount of sleep they get on a nightly basis (“raise your hand if you get 6 hours; 7 hours;” etc), a majority of the audience raised their hands during the 6- and 7-hour sleep questions. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that those numbers fall short of the recommended 8 hours of sleep adults are supposed to get each night. But, as the audience quickly found out, there is a nationwide sleep deprivation epidemic. Here are some of the statistics the lively and charismatic Maas rolled off:
  • Most people are moderately to severely sleep deprived—71% do not meet recommended 8 hours/night
  • 75% experience a sleep-related problem at least 3 days a week
  • 56 million prescriptions were written for sleeping pills last year, representing a 54% increase in the last 6 years
  • 33% of adults fell asleep at work last month
  • $66 billion were lost in productivity last year thanks to sleep-deprived employees
He went on and on with additional facts but the audience quickly got the gist of it: not many people are getting the necessary amount of rest. He also quickly rattled off some of the consequences of sleep deprivation: moodiness, grogginess, clumsiness, etc. He had a bevy of research to also back up what many of us probably already knew: not getting the proper amount of rest directly impacts our ability to learn and absorb the new pieces of information that we process in our day-to-day lives. The sleeping brain is highly active at night; a healthy night sleep not only helps to store the short-term information into areas out of brain that will essentially transfer it into long-term information, but it also regulates hormones and endocrine functions for general health.
Our brains have 5 patterns of sleep waves (most of us barely get 3) and those 4th and 5th waves are necessary to accomplish the above; if we are constantly robbing out brain of the sleep that can help maintain health, it puts us at risk for high cortisol, diabetes, periodontal disease, skin problems, obesity, and even cancer. “You can condition yourself to function on 5 hours of sleep a night, but you cannot condition it to be enough for your body,” said Maas.
Long story short: get some proper sleep. “People are always quick to criticize my advice and tell me that there’s too much to get done in a day and that they just don’t have time to get [8 hours of] sleep,” said Maas. “But what I tell them is that if they just abide by certain rules and rest their body, not only will they be able to accomplish everything they need to, but they will actually be so productive that they will have free time at the end of the day.” Here are some of Maas' tips:
  • It’s important to establish a schedule – go to bed and get up at the same time, even on the weekends
  • Get continuous sleep
  • No caffeine after 2:00 pm in afternoon (negatively impacts REM sleep)
  • No liquor within three hours of bedtime
  • Exercise will improve sleep (5-7 PM at night is the best time to exercise)
  • Set the bedroom stage – quiet, dark, cool, uncluttered
  • Get a good pillow for head, neck and spinal cord alignment
  • Limit television, computers, video games within hour of bedtime
  • Read something non work related
  • If you ctoss and turn for more than ten minutes, get up and read; you’ll fall asleep faster this way then trying to fight it
Maas’ presentation was supplemented with several hilarious multimedia clips to drive his point home, and his ability to command the audience was evident the whole time. The rousing rendition at the end would imply that many attendees will start taking their sleep more seriously; will you? 

The activity is not sanctioned by, nor a part of, the American College of Rheumatology.

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