slow-wave sleep

  1. Poor sleep linked to hypertension

    If you're battling blood pressure problems, you don't need another med -- you just need better sleep... and that doesn't necessarily mean more sleep.

    "Better" sleep is slow-wave sleep -- the deep sleep that helps to refresh our bodies and restore our minds. And now, a new study finds that people who miss out on it aren't just tired, forgetful, and irritable -- they have a dramatically higher risk of hypertension, too.

    Researchers checked the BP levels and monitored the sleep habits of 784 senior men on two occasions, three and a half years apart.

    They found that men who spend less than 4 percent of the night in slow-wave sleep were 83 percent more likely to develop hypertension between the two tests than men who spend at least 17 percent of the night locked inside that deepest of slumbers.

    The men who got the low-quality sleep were also more likely to get less overall sleep, wake up more often, and even suffer from sleep apnea.

    So how much quality sleep are you getting? There's no way to know for sure without spending a night in a sleep lab. But one way you can tell on your own, right now, is to just see how you feel in the morning.

    If you wake up feeling lousy, odds are you're not getting enough. Poor sleep can do so much more than raise your blood pressure. Lack of sleep and low-quality rest can boost the odds of everything from cognitive decline to an early death.

    You definitely don't want any part of that – but don't rush off to your doctor and beg him for sleep meds, either, because there are natural solutions that can help you to get the best rest of your life.

    One recent study found that seniors can overcome sleep problems with the help of talk therapy in as little as two in-person sessions and two follow-up phone calls. (Read about it here.)

    Other studies have found that you can get relief by making simple lifestyle adjustments -- like cutting back on late-day caffeine -- or easy nutritional additions, such as a calcium and magnesium supplement before bedtime.

    For more on the risks of sleepless nights -- and how to beat them -- read this.

  2. Freeze your head

    If you're having trouble sleeping, maybe you just need to chill out.

    Literally.

    You probably know all about the wonders of the magical "cool spot" on your pillow (and if you don't, try looking for it tonight). But now, researchers are taking the concept a step further. They've created a water-powered nightcap that can keep your head cool all night long.

    It might just be able to help insomniacs sleep better than ever.

    Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recruited a dozen patients who suffer from primary insomnia, a sleep disorder not linked to drugs, substance abuse, other health problems, or anything else.

    The researchers also recruited a dozen normal sleepers to act as controls, and then let them all snooze away in a sleep lab for eight nights under different conditions: two nights without the cooling cap, two nights with the cooling cap at room temperature, two nights with a slight chill in the cap (72 degrees), and two nights with a nice cold cap (57 degrees).

    When the cap was set at that coolest temperature, the insomniacs were practically cured: It took them just 13 minutes to fall asleep on average.

    That's slightly faster than the 16 minutes needed by the normal sleepers.

    Better yet, the insomniacs spent 89 percent of their time in bed asleep, about the same as the healthy sleepers, and more time in slow-wave sleep -- or the kind of sleep we need to feel rested.

    Obviously, this was a small study and more research is needed before anyone can say for sure whether cooling caps are worth the time and trouble.

    But none of that should stop you from experimenting on your own at home -- so if you're having sleep problems, consider cooling your pillow.

    There are pillows for sale that you can fill with a layer of cold water to keep them cool through the night, but you can make your own economy version with a towel and a gel-based ice pack.

    Wrap the frozen pack into the towel, and slip it into your pillow.

    Whatever you do, avoid a frozen wet towel.

    It might help you get to sleep at first... but you'll wake up in the middle of the night with your head in a puddle.

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