If you are dealing with excessive daytime sleepiness, gain an extra boost of alertness with tips from these recent research studies.
We’ve all been there … nodding off in the middle of a meeting while your boss is talking, or having trouble focusing after a mid-afternoon snack.
As you might imagine, getting enough good quality sleep is your first line of defense against being tired during the day. For most adults this means seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
But there are other things that can affect your wakefulness during the day. These tips will help you keep your eyes open even while your boss drones on about the latest something-or-other.
What you eat could have as much of an impact on your alertness during the day as does how much sleep you get at night, according to a preliminary study by researchers from Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa.
During the study, which will be presented June 4 at the SLEEP 2013 meeting in Baltimore, Md., 31 healthy people between the ages of 18 and 65 years spent four nights in a row in a sleep laboratory. Researchers monitored the participants’ quality of sleep during their overnight stays, and also tracked their diet and assessed how tired they were during the day.
The researchers found that people who ate more fatty foods had greater levels of daytime sleepiness, a state that can lead to not only decreased productivity at work, but also more accidents, such as while driving.
“Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue are very prevalent in the modern world and on the rise,” said Alexandros Vgontzas, MD, the lead author on the study. “It appears that a diet high in fat decreases alertness acutely, and this may have an impact on an individual’s ability to function and also public safety.”
On the flip side, carbohydrates led to greater daytime alertness, while protein had no effect. More research is needed, but if you tend to nod off mid-day, you might be better off skipping the greasy fries at lunch and choosing a baked potato instead.
If you are often tired during the day, sleeping more at night might not be the answer. Instead, try sleeping better. One way to do this, it turns out, is with exercise.
In a 2010 study, published in Sleep Medicine, 23 adults over the age of 54 who had been diagnosed with insomnia were assigned to either take part in an exercise program or to do less demanding physical activity. Researchers also provided all participants with information about good sleep hygiene, which includes setting a regular sleep schedule, sleeping in a dark, quiet and cool room, and using the bedroom only for sex and sleep.
People in the aerobic exercise group did 30 to 40 minutes of exercise four times a week on a treadmill or stationary bicycle, or simply walking at a brisk pace. People in the non-exercise group spent a similar amount of time doing educational or recreational activities like attending a museum lecture or taking a cooking class.
After 16 weeks, exercisers fared much better in the bedroom. Not only did their sleep quality improve—bumping them from “poor sleeper” to “good sleeper”—but their mood lifted, as well. In addition they experienced less daytime sleepiness and, best of all, they felt better.
So if you tend to toss and turn at night—followed by nodding off in the middle of the next day—try increasing your physical activity level. In addition to possibly helping you sleep better, exercise is also known to lower your risk of other conditions like stroke and heart disease.
In addition to affecting how tired you are during the day, food and exercise can make a big difference in your weight. In turn, your weight may also play a part in how well you sleep.
In three more preliminary studies, presented by Vgontzas at the SLEEP 2012 conference, people who gained excess weight (or were diagnosed with depression) were more likely to experience daytime sleepiness.
In the larger study, which included over 1,700 adults, obesity and emotional stress were linked to daytime sleepiness. The effect of weight on alertness during the day was confirmed by a longer study that followed 222 adults for over 7 years. For participants, losing weight also seemed to reverse the problem.
“Our results showed that in individuals who lost weight, excessive sleepiness improved,” said Vgontzas, MD.
Good Health Means Less Daytime Sleepiness
These studies show that sleep depends upon many factors, including diet and exercise, both of which can be modified to help you sleep better. Focusing on better sleep, though, doesn’t mean you have to let other areas of your health suffer. In fact, the pathway to more alertness during the day turns out to be the same road that leads to better health overall … and to fewer embarrassing moments with your boss.
References: Reid, K., Baron, K., Lu, B., Naylor, E., Wolfe, L., & Zee, P. (2010). Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia Sleep Medicine, 11 (9), 934-940 DOI: 10.1016/j.sleep.2010.04.014
Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Aek1982