Many Americans take drugs to get high while many others take drugs to get to sleep says UCLA neuroscientist Christopher S. Colwell, PhD. He notes that about 50% of individuals over the age of 65 take sleeping aids on a regular basis. He believes that sleep aids have benefits for short-term use but not for long-term use; furthermore, data on adverse effects from long-term use are lacking. A sad case of dependence on drugs for sleep is Michal Jackson, who was administered IV medication to go to sleep. I consulted with Dr. Colwell regarding sleeping aids and healthy alternatives to medication. He also offered tips on how to minimize the effects of jet lag.
Dr. Colwell noted that when one takes a sleeping aid, normal sleep does not follow. Periods of REM sleep, when dreaming takes place, do not occur. Research has shown the REM sleep is necessary to maintain cognitive function. Although a stressful day, which is common for many Americans, is disruptive to sleep, Dr. Colwell pointed out other factors. In a primitive society, darkness signals the brain that it is time to rest. In the high-tech society we live in today, light exposure persists throughout the evening. Blue-green light disrupts sleep. This type of light is emitted by video games and, to a lesser extent, television sets. Limiting or avoiding exposure in the evening can help one sleep. Dr. Colwell recommends reading a book instead of playing a video game or watching TV before retiring. Inexpensive radios that emit white noise are available. This background noise is a proven sleep aid. If you live in a noisy neighborhood, consider adding sound-reducing material in your bedroom.
Anyone who has taken a flight to Asia or Europe has experienced jet lag. It manifests by fatigue during the day followed by an inability to sleep at night (daytime back home). This is due to the circadian rhythm, often referred to as the “body clock.” It is 24-hour cycle that rules us all. This internal body clock is affected by external forces, such as sun rise and time zones. And when one’s circadian rhythm is disrupted by, say jet lag, sleeping and eating patterns can run amok. As a general rule, we can acclimate to a time change by one hour a day; thus, a time change of 10 hours would take 10 days to acclimate. Dr. Colwell offers some tips for reducing the impact of jet lag. Taking a melatonin tablet before retiring has proven benefits for jet lag. Expose yourself to as much natural sunlight as possible and eat your meals adjusted to the new time.