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Sufficient sleep yields big paybacks Featured

5:30am EDT January 22, 2002
Tim Cleary didn't like the man he had become. The once jovial Irishman was irritable, hard to work with and short-tempered. Managing 24 employees at a Cleveland-based grocery had gone from difficult to impossible. But Cleary wasn't experiencing a personality change -- he was living the effects of sleep deprivation.

Benita Chernyk, Ph.D. says lack of sleep can lead to severe health problems, both physical and mental. In 1994, Chernyk, along with Diane Eden, M.D. and Shari Ridge, Ph.D., founded Access Behavioral Care. Today, ABC is one of the largest privately owned behavioral health groups in Northeast Ohio with locations in Shaker Heights, North Olmsted and Mentor.

"Sleep is probably one of the most important biological factors in taking care of your body," explains Chernyk. "Lack of it can also make you vulnerable to some very significant psychiatric problems."

Sufficient sleep is one of the first luxuries to be eliminated during stressful times at home or work. But depriving your body of rest can cause some of the same reactions seen with certain types of drug use.

For two years, Cleary awoke with a headache. His normal rosy complexion was ashen and his mood swings frequent. His irritability didn't end with his family – it overflowed into his work and his management style. Cleary says the least little problem on the floor with customers could result in a tirade in the backroom with employees.

"I never realized it though," says Cleary. "You're making decisions on very little sleep so you're tough to work with. I just couldn't keep it together all the time."

As work pressures mount and time becomes a scarce commodity, deviating from your normal sleep/wake cycle by even an hour or two carries many consequences including:

* Loss of appetite
* Hyperactive behavior
* A false sense of personal power
* Paranoia
* Difficulty in relaxing
* Subsequent insomnia
* Hyper-vigilance

Chernyk suggests keeping sleep patterns as routine as possible. When stress makes it difficult to relax, the following suggestions may help:

* Minimize your alcohol intake. While initially a sleep inducer, alcohol causes residual insomnia.

* Limit caffeine to three to four cups, preferably before lunch.

* Nicotine is also a stimulant – don't smoke two to three hours before bedtime.

* Keep your routine consistent; avoid naps and go to bed the same time, even on weekends.

* Get up at the same time every morning; the more routine you can be, the better.

* Keep your sleep environment comfy and cozy.

* Have good sleep hygiene practices, i.e. don't read, watch television or do paperwork in bed.

When every attempt fails, don't hesitate to seek professional help. In Cleary's case, it was sleep apnea rather than outside influences at the root of his sleep disorder. Throat surgery and correcting a deviated septum eliminated the apnea that caused Cleary to stop breathing 85 times per hour and ultimately never diving into a deep, restful sleep.

"My energy level increased…the headaches are gone," says Cleary.

And although he has a better appetite, Cleary says he lost weight and feels more like himself. Getting the proper sleep not only increased his energy level, it gave him a new outlook on life.

"Lost sleep is almost contagious," says Chernyk, so if you've been depriving yourself of that much needed rest, plan on some difficulty in getting back into a healthy routine. But like any good habit, the reward is plentiful and you are the prime beneficiary.