Sleep

New study says that it’s okay to let babies cry at night

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Just about every new parent has wrestled with the idea of whether to comfort a baby who cries during the night or whether to let him or her “cry it out.” A recent study adds more evidence to what researchers (and our own parents and grandparents) have long known: It’s okay to let your baby cry it out. It won’t harm them — and you’ll get a much better night’s sleep, too!

Could lack of sleep trigger a food “addiction”?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people cite a lack of “motivation” or “willpower” as the reason that overweight people can’t control their eating habits. But a wealth of evidence has come to light that obesity is linked to insufficient sleep. Most recently, an experimental study has found that restricted sleep can increase the levels of brain chemicals that make eating pleasurable. Could it be that insufficient sleep makes the brain addicted to the act of eating?

News flash: Teens need adequate sleep!

Dennis Rosen, M.D.
Dennis Rosen, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

The amount of sleep that’s “enough” to let you wake up feeling rested and refreshed varies dramatically from person to person. But the effects of chronically not getting enough sleep are incredibly detrimental—and especially so in children and teens. Here, we’ve explored some of the effects of sleep deprivation in teens, as well as shared our favorite tips for helping your child get a great night’s sleep.

Follow the poodle? Alternatives to prescription sleep medications

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, you may be concerned that there’s no other option besides prescription sleep aids. Fortunately, there are many other treatments to pick from. In fact, sleep specialists now agree that behavioral (non-drug) treatments should be the first treatment for most cases of insomnia. But beware: not all non-drug insomnia treatments are created equal.

Awake, alert, and alive: Is two hours’ sleep enough?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

According to an estimate from the Institute of Medicine, up to 20% of all motor vehicle crashes are related to drowsy driving. A panel of experts recently concluded that anyone who has slept less than two hours in the previous 24 hours is not fit to drive. This is only a rough guideline, however, because the relationship between sleep and safe driving is complex. (For example, a pre-existing sleep debt and driving at night increase the effects of drowsiness.) In general, driving while sleep-deprived is a dangerous undertaking for you — and others on the road with you.

Yoga for Better Sleep

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

Yoga is a gentle and restorative way to wind down your day. A national survey found that over 55% of people who did yoga found that it helped them get better sleep. Over 85% said yoga helped reduce stress. Dr. Marlynn Wei shares a bedtime yoga routine and explains how to use the breath to relax deeper into the poses.

Gout: Sleep apnea may raise your risk

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes people to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. It is linked to several chronic health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure. A recent study suggests that sleep apnea may also raise the risk for gout, a common form of inflammatory arthritis. This is just one more good reason to talk with your doctor if you have symptoms of sleep apnea (which include loud snoring and excessive sleepiness during the day).

Sleeping like a caveman?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

Recent news reports of a study of sleep duration in geographically isolated societies in Africa and South America suggest that Americans are actually getting plenty of sleep because members of these tribes spend about the same amount of time asleep each night as people in modern societies. These controversial findings will be debated, but are not relevant to the widespread sleep deficit and associated health consequences in more modern societies.

Too little sleep and too much weight: a dangerous duo

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

Americans are sleeping less and weighing more. Science tells us this is no coincidence. Inadequate sleep can contribute to weight gain in several ways, including altering levels of the hormones that control appetite and fullness and setting off a chain reaction of poor habits that can increase the risk of weight gain and obesity. Sleep is proving to be as important to health as good nutrition and regular exercise.

What is the magic sleep number?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

America is exhausted. A recent report from the CDC says that the percentage of adults sleeping fewer than 6 hours per night has increased by 31% since 1985. This sleep deficit not only leaves people tired, irritable, and less productive, but also increases the risk for some serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and even earlier death. Just how much sleep we need isn’t completely clear, although according to the available data, most people should aim for 7 hours of sleep each night. Simple lifestyle changes can help people meet that goal.