Sleep. The Down and Dirty.

Let's talk about sleep.  Not the sweet angel and clouds sleep.  But the down and dirty.  Like, when you can't.  We've all been there.  Some, more than others.

I know when I'm anxious and upset about something, I'm still watching TV at 4 a.m.  I've always been a poor sleeper, I suspect, since my college experiences in the late '60s when there was so much unrest on campuses across America and people stayed up all night, blasting stereos and shouting and demonstrating. 

Ever since then I've had to have complete quiet (I've convinced my wife to let me use a sound machine when we travel and at home I have the AC on, even in the winter, for its soft insistent hum). But for many, getting to sleep is a frustrating, upsetting process that can sometimes lead to devastating outcomes. More on that later.

Sleep has turned into a multi-million-dollar industry these days. Bed makers have gotten people to shell out thousands of dollars for mattresses that change from hard to soft with the push of a button.  Luxury hotels now have "sleep concierges."  And late-night infomercials push pillows and special sheets and all kinds of sleep aids purported to make you never have to count sheep again.

Those who are overweight or obese have other challenges, where snoring, caused by the weight, makes them stop breathing, sometimes up to 100 times a night.  Called sleep apnea, this obstructed breathing can lead to stroke, heart attack and other serious illnesses, sometimes even death.

Fragmented sleep -- waking three or more times a night -- has also been found to lead tocancer, in some cases.  Poor-quality sleep marked by frequent awakenings can speed cancer growth, increase tumor aggressiveness and dampen the immune system’s ability to control or eradicate early cancers, according to a new study, as reported by

“It’s not the tumor, it’s the immune system,” said study director David Gozal, MD, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, at “Fragmented sleep changes how the immune system deals with cancer in ways that make the disease more aggressive.”

So, sleep is pretty important.  In other posts we'll suggest ways to try to turn down the anxiety, and the covers, so you can get a good night's sleep.

Dr. Larry Hirsch


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