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Enjoy some extra shuteye this weekend, Buffalo doctor says

Dr. Alexander Gelfer has an important piece of advice you should follow this weekend, a recommendation that might be the easiest health directive of the year.

Get an extra hour of sleep.

As we fall back to standard time early Sunday, bedtime Saturday night becomes “an opportunity for someone to compensate on some of the sleep they’ve been losing,” said Gelfer, the pulmonologist who runs the SleepCare centers at Sisters of Charity Hospital St. Joseph’s Campus in Cheektowaga and Kenmore Mercy Hospital.

“You cannot sleep enough that you won’t have to sleep the next day,” he said, “but you can replace what you lost.”

Gelfer, 66, took the long route to a medical career in Western New York. He, his wife, Frida, his parents and a grandmother were allowed to leave Russia as refugees in 1981 for a new life in America.

After fellowships at the University of Rochester, Gelfer and his wife took jobs with the Catholic Health System in the early 1990s. He opened the St. Joseph’s sleep center in 1993 and has been working in the field since.

He oversees a Catholic Health specialty that includes nine sleep technicians and three support staff. They see patients weekdays at sleep clinics in the hospitals, as well as overnights at the two sleep study centers: a six-bed unit at St. Joe’s and four-bed unit at Kenmore Mercy.

“Everyone of us needs sleep,” Gelfer said. “It’s a jewel that we have to treasure and some people don’t realize how important it is. It has such an impact on their well-being, their mental, physical and emotional health.”

You say the people who need to be most careful with the time change this weekend are those who work second and third shift?

It’s very important for people driving home from work. Now they’re actually going to work one hour later. They’ll be driving home at a time when they maybe would have been asleep, or doing something to relax at the house. This is a very dangerous time for them. They need to be aware.

How much sleep does the average person need?

The majority of us need between 6 and 10 hours of sleep. The more in that range, the better your brain works.

What should a healthy night’s sleep look and feel like, and what can people do to get that kind of sleep?

You want to make sure you don’t have food too close to your bedtime. Not too much drinking, and not just alcohol, before bedtime, because that will make you need to go to the bathroom.

You want to make sure your bed is cool. All animals fall asleep (better) in a cool environment. I tell some of my patients to take a warm bath an hour before bedtime, get out, put on a warm bathrobe, have a half a glass of herbal tea and go to bed. Changing temperature from warm to cool stimulates sleep.

A lot is also dependent on the bed partner. If the partner snores, then sleep is disturbed. I have a lot of patients who have dogs in their bed. It can be a comfortable, quiet dog, but sometimes they get up at 4 o’clock and need to go out. A person who has to go to work at 7 takes the dog out, goes back to bed and is sleep disturbed.

Talk about the different stages of sleep.

It starts with stage 1, very superficial sleep. You’re sometimes not sure yourself that you are asleep but your brainwaves show that you’re asleep. The main stage is stage 2. It’s almost 70 percent of our sleep.

Stages 3 and 4 are now sometimes called ‘delta sleep.’ It’s a high-wave sleep, most pronounced in children and young people. If you’re sleep-deprived, this is the first sleep that’s recovered. What’s most important about delta sleep is that growth hormone is produced in delta sleep. It’s also responsible for glucose/sugar control as well as your growth, and for skin recovery. Delta sleep is so important.

The next stage is REM sleep, also called ‘active sleep.’ In REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, we’re paralyzed. The brain is active. To prevent us from moving, or acting, in sleep, nature created us not to move. … REM sleep is very important sleep, which is first recovered in elderly people. Researchers believe REM sleep helps to tune the body, all of the organs, together.

Sleep is fascinating.

How long do you have to sleep to go through every stage?

It depends how much you slept before and how much recovery you need. You usually start with stages 1 and 2. Within 60 to 120 minutes, we’re hitting the REM sleep. People might have delta sleep, or high wave sleep, between, but sometimes it’s very short and they go into the REM sleep.

Through the night, people have several stages of REM sleep, usually three episodes 120 minutes apart. Each stage is longer and longer. Therefore, the longest episode of REM occurs in the early morning hours.

People who have sleep apnea or a lung disease – because we’re paralyzed in REM sleep and our muscles don’t work – any kind of health problems, that’s where oxygen levels drop to the lowest level.

What are the most common disorders by percentage?

The sleep center most often sees patients with sleep apnea and low oxygen levels. Next would be excessive sleepiness because of other causes, maybe fibromyalgia or frequent leg movements during sleep. The sleep clinic is a different story. People mostly have trouble falling asleep or maintaining sleep.

Are most sleep disorders treatable?

A majority of them. We may not be able to cure them but we can help them compensate for these disorders.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

Coming Saturday on the Refresh Buffalo Blog: What’s better, sleeping on your back, side or stomach? How many times do some people stop breathing when they sleep? 

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