Lately, it seems there’s been a lot more news than usual about the science of sleep and how a chronic lack of sleep can damage your health. How it can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke. How it impairs your decision-making ability. How it may contribute to obesity and Alzheimer’s.
But what you may not know is that chronic sleep deprivation can also raise your risk of gum disease – or make existing perio problems worse. In fact, research suggests that it’s more damaging than either chronic stress or daily alcohol use. Only smoking – the number one risk factor for gum disease – has a bigger impact.
In general, the risk goes up for those who sleep 6 hours a night or less – a figure in line with the latest guidelines released by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. They recommend 7 to 8 hours minimum for healthy adults to keep their risk low of any health problems associated with chronic sleep debt – and give no upper limit for sleep.
“More than a third of the population is not getting enough sleep, so the focus needs to be on achieving the recommended minimum hours of nightly sleep,” said Watson. “Long sleep duration is more likely to reflect chronic illness than to cause it, and few experimental laboratory studies have examined the health effects of long sleep duration.”
And it’s not just the quantity of sleep that matters, they add. Quality matters, too. For sleep to be truly restorative, it must be deep, undisturbed.
Some situations that interfere with good sleep are things we can take of dentally. For instance, mild to moderate sleep apnea can often be treated with appliance therapy. Bruxing, too – that is, habitual clenching and grinding – can often be treated with removable appliances that can help you get a good night’s sleep. (And since bruxing is often triggered by stress, strategies for better stress management can be helpful, as well.)
But there are plenty of other impediments to sleep, as well. After all, modern life is a busy life. We’re constantly compelled – or feel compelled – to work more, cram more into each day, stay constantly connected and available. It can seem like everyone and everything is vying for our increasingly valuable attention. With our brains ever more conditioned to be “on” for more hours of the day, it can get harder to turn them off when it’s time for sleep.
Here are a few tips for getting more sleep to improve both your oral and systemic health:
- Go to bed at a regular time each night and wake up at the same time each day.
- Avoid eating anything after 7pm.
- Avoid caffeinated and sweetened beverages in the evening.
- Take a cup of chamomile tea – or one of the many “sleepytime” or “bedtime” blends available. These typically include soothing, relaxing ingredients like chamomile, lemongrass, passionflower and Valerian root. If you don’t like tea, try a few drops of Valerian extract in water before turning in for the night.
- Take some calcium and magnesium before bedtime – or a melatonin supplement.
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet.
- Avoid TV, computers, smartphones and other screen-based gadgets at least an hour before bedtime. Keep tech out of your sleep space.
- Practice controlled breathing such as Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing exercise.
- Play some soft, relaxing music to go to sleep to – or natural sounds to help you relax.
- Keep a notepad and pen by your bed, so if you find your thoughts racing, you can jot them down quickly – and then let them go.