Healthy Living

How To Recover From Sleepless Nights, According To An Expert

The answer is simpler than you think.

We're posting live from a special #SleepRevolution JetBlue flight from New York to Las Vegas, along with special guests including Dr. Carol Ash, corporate director of sleep medicine at Meridian Health.

As part of our in-flight office hours on the importance of sleep, JetBlue passengers asked Ash their most burning sleep questions. Ash's answers put to "rest" the we've wondered about all along.

What's the deal with sleep apnea?

It's a BIG deal, to begin with. "The first thing is to take sleep apnea seriously," Ash says. You could have mild -- or even severe -- sleep apnea without realizing it, along with more than 10 million other Americans. Many people see snoring as a silly side effect of sleep, or they don't realize that frequent middle-of-the-night bathroom trips are the result of waking up from struggling to breathe.

Ash recommends taking a simple at-home sleep test to get to the root of your sleep troubles and rule out sleep apnea as the cause. The fix could be something as simple as losing weight or finally addressing seasonal allergies.

I wake up often in the middle the night. How can I fall back asleep fast?

Just relax. Ash says that having tense muscles while asleep can put your brain in a hyper-aroused state, causing it to scan the environment for new information the instant you wake up.

So let your muscles calm down, one at a time. "Start with your toes, and focus on slowly relaxing body parts as you work your way up," Ash recommends. "Most of the time, you'll be asleep by the time you get to the neck." Arianna Huffington also recommends a sleep-friendly meditation if you wake up, to get your mind back to the here and now.

Can weird sleep patterns really make me gain weight?

Yes. Worst of all, "a lack of sleep makes you gain weight around your waistline, which is a very important area," Ash says. On a lack of sleep, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy while hunger-signaling hormones get a boost, as Readers Digest notes. The result is a perfect storm for gain in the waistline, an area where excess weight is known to put you at risk for heart disease.

What's the best way to recover from a night of no sleep?

Take a nap. "The number one thing to do when you didn’t get enough sleep is, well, sleep," Ash says. If you're not in a spot where you can nap, then go outside and get some sunlight. The natural rays will alert your body that it's time to shine.

What the ideal length of a nap?

Twenty minutes is enough to make you feel refreshed, Ash says. You can extend your nap a bit longer, but make sure it doesn't exceed 40 minutes. Doing so gets you into deeper REM sleep and could leave you with a groggy feeling when you wake up.

What's the one thing you can do to improve your sleep tonight?

Get into a bedtime routine. Ash recommends winding down by putting devices outside the room, taking a shower or bath and reading a hardcover book (no screens!). You'll be ready to snooze in no time.

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