Foundations of Good Oral-Systemic Health: Sleep

Sleep is yet another essential part of maintaining good oral and systemic health – 7 to 9 hours nightly, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Unfortunately, for many of us, sleep quality is lacking. Only 30% report it being “excellent” or “very good;” 35% report it being “only fair” or “poor.” They may sleep enough hours-wise, yet still wake up feeling tired. This is as much a sign of sleep debt as sleeping less than needed.

Sleep debt has been shown to contribute to both inflammation and immune suppression, among other problems.

Simply put, our bodies can’t function properly without sleep. Every night your brain is pumped with cerebral spinal fluid which flushes away your brain’s cells waste products. Being able to think properly allows us to make smarter decisions, and it keeps us safe.

Moodiness, weight gain, depression, and high blood pressure also go along with sleep debt. Even oral health takes a hit. In fact, according to research out of the Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, lack of sleep may be among the top risk factors for developing periodontal disease – second only to smoking. Observing 200 factory workers’ diet, exercise, stress and other habits over a four year period, the researchers found that workers who slept less than 6 hours a night had a higher risk of gum disease than those who slept more.

Gum disease, of course, has been linked to a wide variety of systemic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, and low birth weight.

In further evidence of the link between periodontal issues to sleep, a preliminary study from 2013 showed that 60% of the participants who were diagnosed with gum disease also had obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This may be because people with OSA tend to sleep with their mouths open, thus making them more prone to dry mouth and, in consequence, gum disease (along with decay and oral infections). Common sleep apnea symptoms include loud and chronic snoring, sleepiness during the day, trouble breathing during sleep, waking with a sore throat or dry mouth and headaches.

But OSA isn’t the only dental condition that can interfere with getting good quality sleep. Another big one is bruxism, or the habitual clenching and grinding of teeth during sleep. Often, it is stress-induced. Sometimes, it may be a response to poor occlusion (bite) or other mechanical problems. It’s worth getting checked out by your dentist, as bruxing can easily lead to tooth fractures, enamel wear, loosening of the teeth, jaw pain, and headaches. Often, a custom-made night guard can bring great relief.

How to Get More – & Better – Sleep

One way that many people sabotage their sleep is by using electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and TVs late at night. These devices emit a blue light that mimics daylight, which tricks our brains into thinking it’s still daytime. The content we read or hear can sometimes be stressful. Turning off electronics 30 minutes before bed can eliminate both the blue light and the possibility of unnecessary stress.

If you must use your electronic device(s) at night, there are apps you can download that remove the blue light from the screen. You can also buy blue light-blocking glasses through many online retailers.

More methods of getting a good night of sleep include:

  • Sticking with a sleep schedule and bedtime routine that includes flossing and brushing your teeth.
  • Going to bed at the same time every night, turning the lights down low in the evening.
  • Using a good quality “white noise” sound machine.
  • Removing your television from your bedroom.
  • Making the bedroom quiet and dark.
  • Investing in a quality mattress and pillows.
  • Avoiding alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and eating 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Paying down your sleep debt slowly and steadily by gaining more sleep every night.

Most of us have missed out on sleep and are familiar with how it makes us feel. This is another reminder that our entire body is connected, from toes to teeth. With these tips, we hope you can catch up on or even improve the quality of your sleep.

Image by HilaryQuinn, Flickr