How Important Is Sleep and How Do I Know If I Get Good Sleep?

Sleep Apps and Wearable Activity Trackers

The health risks of poor sleep are several, including: heart disease, overweight and obesity, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, depression and impaired cognitive functioning (reasoning, memory, attention, and language which can lead to the impairment of information attainment and, thus, knowledge). This is a short list of the health impact of bad sleep. 

Healthy individuals should sleep through the night uninterrupted.  I frequently hear reasons for poor sleep such as:  “I have never been a good sleeper”, “I am a light sleeper”, “I just get up to go to the bathroom”, “stress wakes me up thinking about what I have to do”, etc.   The important fact about sleep is that if we are breathing well we sleep well.  Good sleep starts with a good airway from birth.  We are supposed to breathe through our nose not our mouth.  Mouth breathing is only supposed to happen when we are physically exerting ourselves beyond our ability to oxygenate through the nose, then mouth breathing augments nose breathing.  Nose breathing is important because it greatly improves the quality of the air entering your lungs.  Nose breathing filters the air of pollutants and allergens, warms and humidifies the air and adds nitric oxide.  All of these attributes of nose breathing gives our airway clean air to breathe and expands the bronchioles in the lungs for better oxygenation.  Air that does not have these attributes is irritating to our airway causing inflamed tonsils, pharynx, and bronchioles in the lungs leading to decreased oxygen uptake.  Also, chronic mouth breathing leads to nasal congestion and sinus infections due to poor oxygenation of the nasal airway and sinuses which results in the overgrowth of bacterial, viral and fungal microbes.

Now that we have some of the background of how important sleep is you may want to know how you can tell if you are getting good sleep.  First, if you suspect that you have sleep problems like sleep apnea (stopping breathing) discuss this with your physician.  It may be necessary to have a sleep study.  If you are not sure if you are sleeping well or if you want to monitor and improve your sleep so you can avoid some of these sleep deprived medical conditions you may want to try one of the many Apps or wearable sleep monitors available.

There are many sleep apps available that can connect to a smart phone and give you valuable information about the length and quality of your sleep.  Some will even evaluate the sleep environment (temperature, noise and light).  A few of the sleep apps available are:   S+ by Resmed, Emfit QS, Beddit 3.0 Smart Sleep Monitor, Withings Aura Smart Sleep System, Sleepace Reston, Sense with voice.

A good alternative to the apps are wearable devices, examples are:  Fitbit Charge 2, Jawbone Up3, Fitbit Blaze, Fitbit Surge. There are pros and cons to all of these apps and  devices but a big plus for all of them is they help you focus more on the length and quality of your sleep which can make a big difference in how well you feel, how well you perform and your overall health. 

You may wonder why a dentist is writing about airway and sleep issues.  Good breathing and thus good sleep is influenced by and in turn also influences the growth and development of the face, and your dentist is the best source of information on this area of your body.  You have regular visits with your dentist from an early age and he or she will be evaluating the growth and development of the face.  If there are deficiencies the earlier they are addressed the more easily they can be treated, leading to fewer immediate and future medical problems.

I hope that you have great sleep and excellent health.


Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, he is on the faculty of Spear Education, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association.  Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.

Dr. Gallegos