We all have so many demands on our time we often sacrifice sleep in order to snatch a bit more time to watch the end of a game, a show or just to indulge in free time. For some, being tired is a statement of self worth, choosing to keep a crazy pace as a emblem of self importance. For others being tired is a sign of life out of control. And for others being tired is a sign that the importance of a good night’s sleep is either misunderstood or difficult to attain due to a sleep disorder or poor sleep hygiene.
Sleep has a purpose. It’s not just self indulgence. Dr. Merrill Mitler from the NIH states, “Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood.” In order for our body to perform at its best emotionally, cognitively and physically we need a good night’s sleep. “The fact is, when we look at well-rested people, they’re operating at a different level than people trying to get by on 1 or 2 hours less nightly sleep,” says Mitler.
Sleep is also important for the health of our body. “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” says Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at NIH. “It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.” Inadequate sleep has been linked to obesity, heart disease and infection.
A good night’s sleep involves 4-5 cycles of sleep going between deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These cycles are critical to get the optimal performance from our body. And the recommended hours of sleep varies with age. “On average, adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Babies typically sleep about 16 hours a day. Young children need at least 10 hours of sleep, while teenagers need at least 9 hours,” says Twery.
Sleep Apnea – take the test
It is natural to be be awake for a few minutes when you turn the lights out. If you immediately fall asleep when your head hits the bed that could be a sign that you are not getting enough sleep or good quality sleep. If you wake up tired most of the time and you are allowing yourself at least 7 hours of time to sleep, then you may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea happens when someone stops breathing or breathes lightly throughout the night. This can be due to obstruction of the airway. The body is deprived of oxygen when this happens which makes the body release stress hormones in order to waken the body and increase the oxygen level. Over time this has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, stroke not speak of decreased alertness and strain on relationships.
Establish Good Sleep Hygiene
- Maintain a sleep and wake time structure.
- Get your bedroom dark with darkening curtains.
- Keep pets out of your bedroom.
- Stop drinking caffeine after early afternoon including coffee, tea and soda with caffeine.
- Limit napping during the day to no more than 20 minutes if at all.
- Keep your bedroom just for sleep and sex – take the TV and lap top out of the bedroom.
- Use a fan or soft noise machine to block out external noise.
- Don’t eat a meal or large snack within 3 hours of bedtime.
- Keep a notepad with pencil by your bed to write down thoughts or ideas that keep you from falling asleep or getting back to sleep.
- Put your worries “on a shelf” once you go to bed. Nothing is solved at night time. Allow yourself to take a mental hiatus from things that you are worried about.
- If you are having a difficult time falling asleep, do some activities that will help calm you. Read a book for a few minutes, do some slow deep breathing by counting to 4 as your breathe in and breathe out.
A Good night’s sleep is so underappreciated and so easily achievable when it is respected, planned for and facilitated with the right environment. Notice how much you get done and how much happier you feel when you get your zzzz’s!