Regular Sleep, Healthier Future: World Sleep Day

Next Sunday, March 14, the clocks will go forward for daylight saving time to begin. Our twice-annual time change in the U.S. has a way of reminding us to reflect on the quality of our sleep, while this year’s spring-forward date lands just five days ahead of World Sleep Day on Friday, March 19.

Since 2008, World Sleep Society has hosted World Sleep Day to advocate and educate the world about the importance of sleep. This year’s focus, “Regular Sleep, Healthy Future,” highlights how making efforts to consciously regulate our sleep practices can impact individual, family, and global health. “We call it sleep hygiene,” says Barb Himes, CRT, RPSGT, RST, CCSH, Supervisor of the Penn Highlands Healthcare Sleep Disorders Center. However, Himes notes, we all know there are challenges with getting great sleep, from an active mind to a busy life to a rarely discussed trend that Himes and her team have long witnessed among patients: “A lot of patients really don’t know that they’re not sleeping well,” Himes explains, saying this is particularly true among male patients whose partners are the ones to notice the symptoms. Maybe they’re snoring through the night or short on patience during the day, more forgetful, or prone to accidents. (In the U.K., a reported 20 percent of road traffic accidents are related to a lack of sleep.) “A lot of the men who see us say, ‘I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for my wife or significant other,’” Himes says. “They think they sleep well, but they don’t have a clue that they’re oxygen deprived.”

There are a lot of good reasons to clean up our sleep. The World Sleep Society points to studies indicating that stable bedtimes and rise times are associated with better sleep quality in young, middle-aged adults, and seniors. Regular sleepers also report better moods, psychomotor performance and academic achievement, as well as more optimal fertility, immunity, weight regulation, memory, and overall cognitive function than individuals who don’t put gentle parameters around their bedtime habits.

With sleep occupying 26 years’ worth of the average human’s life—and another seven years spent trying to fall asleep—it’s no stretch to state that this is an important element of our quality of life. How to make it happen? Many of us are aware that it’s beneficial to go to bed at the same time each night, aim for eight hours, and avoid meals (especially acidic foods) and screen time within a few hours of lights-out. But Himes also sheds light on the fact that with this year marking the 25th anniversary of sleep medicine at Penn Highlands, the strung and the restless might want to turn to the pros. “We opened the lab, so I’ve been doing this since 1996,” Himes says. Now, with locations in DuBois, St. Marys, and Huntingdon, she and the team who specialize in sleep—which includes Angelo Illuzzi, DO; Mark Lipitz, DO; Rajesh Rao, MD; and Melissa Regulski, CRNP (along with Sandeep Bansal, MD, medical director of the Penn Highlands Lung Center)—have worked with thousands of patients throughout our region to address issues related to such disorders as insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, snoring and restless leg syndrome. Twenty-five years in, Himes says, she never gets, well, tired of it. “We’ve been seeing people with problems all that time, and it’s still fascinating to me. Patients might come into the lab, and they’re kind of cranky—and it’s just because of the sleep deprivation. We work with them to help them get the sleep they need, and their oxygen gets to where it needs to be. I love that we help people.”

Help indeed—here are a few scientific benefits of truly good sleep:

  1. Sleep can boost your immune system. When your body gets sleep, your immune cells and proteins get the rest they need to fight off whatever comes their way, such as cold, flu, and possibly even COVID-19. Proper sleep can also make vaccines more effective.
  2. A good night’s sleep can prevent weight gain. If you don’t sleep enough, your body produces ghrelin, a hormone that boosts appetite. The body also decreases the production of leptin, a hormone that tells you when you are full. Conversely when you don’t get enough sleep, you get more stressed and might engage in emotional eating, or lose the energy to discipline yourself away from junk food cravings.
  3. Sleep can strengthen your heart. Not getting enough sleep can lead to heart problems like high blood pressure or heart attacks. The lack of sleep can cause your body to release cortisol, a stress hormone that triggers your heart to work harder.
  4. Better sleep helps your mood. If you sleep well, you wake up feeling rested, which results in having the energy to deal with everyday challenges.
  5. Sleeping can increase Productivity. Burning the midnight oil instead of getting a good night’s sleep could have an adverse effect at work or at school, as sleep is linked to improved concentration and higher cognitive function.
  6. Lack of sleep can be dangerous. You are twice as likely to have a car accident when you have less than five hours of sleep. Reaction time slows significantly when the brain isn’t fully rested.
  7. Sleep can increase exercise performance. Sleep can improve all types of exercise, as it helps your hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and muscle recovery.
  8. Sleep improves your memory. Sleep gives your body the rest it needs, but many folks don’t realize that the brain is still engaged during rest time. Your mind is processing and consolidating your events from the day, which can result in greater memory retention.

If this news on sleep wellness has helped you wake up the importance of good sleep, visit to take our Sleep Study Survey. And if you or a loved one could use support getting quality sleep, call the Penn Highlands sleep labs in DuBois or St. Marys at 814-375-3223 or at Penn Highlands Huntingdon at 814-643-8424.