Tag Archive: sleep

In our fast-paced, driven culture, where the competition is fierce, and many of us work long hours only to come home and run our kids to soccer and ballet and Tae Kwon Do, and somehow, someway, get dinner on the table, then help our kids with homework, after which we finish the day with laundry, dishes, and our own “homework” that we didn’t have time to finish at work, it’s no wonder that most of America is sleep deprived and places sleep last on the list of priorities.  “There isn’t enough time for a good night’s sleep,” we protest.  But, here’s the thing.  The consequences of consistent and chronic lack of sleep are too dire to ignore, and too serious not to put forth every effort to make it a priority in your life again.

Chronic sleep deprivation is responsible, directly and indirectly, for obesity, heart disease, lowered immune function, memory loss, lowered learning ability, fatal accidents, depression, suicide, risky behavior, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney disease.  On a short-term basis, sleep deprivation can cause problems with learning, focusing, and reacting.  You may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, remembering things, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change.  You may take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. So, while our business world is set up to reward those who ‘put in the long hours’, in actuality, the ones who go home and get some rest are more productive and better able to make sound judgments and decisions.

You may be wondering, “How much sleep is enough?  And how do I know if I am getting enough sleep?” On average, adults need 8 hours of sleep, but some operate optimally with only 7, while others need 9.  It varies from person to person.  One way to check if you are sleep deprived is to keep a sleep diary.  Here is a link to a great sample diary, as well as more in depth information about sleep and sleep deprivation:  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf.

A quick note about napping and sleeping ‘extra’ on the weekends:  Napping is wonderful, and if you can manage a half hour to an hour nap in the middle of the day, you will wake up with the freshness of morning.  Your quality of work will improve and you will be more productive, not to mention in a better, brighter mood for the latter half of your day.  But, a nap does not replace lost sleep from the night before.  There are specific things your body and brain get from the continuous sleep and corresponding sleep cycles that do not occur during a short nap.  As for sleeping extra, this also does not make up for lost sleep and can, in fact, exacerbate sleep deprivation because regular sleep/wake times are an important component to your body’s ability to get a good night sleep on a regular basis.

The following are some simple steps to help you sleep better:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.  Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.  Also, try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep–wake rhythm.
  • The hour before bed time should be quiet and relaxing.   Avoid bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen, which may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
  • Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (A light snack is fine.)
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine, sugar and alcohol before bed.
  • Exercise daily and spend time outside if possible. (Try not to exercise after dinner, as it might keep you awake.)
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.  Your bedroom should be designed as your sleep sanctuary.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.  If dehydrated, your body will respond as though it’s in stress, and stress hormones are “awakening” hormones.
  • Do something relaxing before bed.  Adopt some relaxation techniques, meditate, or take a hot bath, for example.

There is a large amount of research and experts weighing in on the importance of sleep.  In a nutshell, it all boils down to this very simple statement:  “Sleep is VERY important.” With all the information I found on the topic, I will keep this first blog on the subject somewhat general.  Because of its importance, it is a topic that will most likely be revisited again.

Many people equate sleep to a battery recharging.  That is a good analogy on many different levels, but it is also inadequate, because a lot of what happens during sleep has to do with repairing and healing as well, both physically and mentally.  That’s why lack of sleep often leads to illness – your immune system is down because it hasn’t had ample time to repair itself.

One of the easiest ways to understand the importance of sleep is to look at all that goes wrong when there is a lack of sleep.  Sleep deprivation is all-pervasive in its effects on your physical health, mental health, and emotional well-being.  It can cause any and all of the following: impaired judgment (increasingly risky behavior with the less sleep you get); car accidents, sometimes fatal; illness/disease; decrease in reaction time; irritability, impatience, mood swings; inability to concentrate; decrease in learning ability; increase in stress and stress hormones; heart issues such as hypertension and irregular heartbeat; weight gain; hallucinations; adrenal fatigue; being too tired to enjoy the things you love.

Here are some tips to help you get adequate sleep:

1.  Keep a regular sleep schedule.  Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Unless you are a shift worker, keep your sleep cycle in line with the natural circadian rhythm – wake in the light of the morning, sleep in the dark of the night.  As a guideline, try to be asleep by 10:30.

2.  Figure out how much sleep you need. The guideline is 8 hours, and for many of us, that is exactly what we need.  But, there are those who will need 9 or 10, and there are those who will need no more than 6 or 7.

3.  Keep your bedroom cool and dark.

4.  Minimize your exposure to bright lights for at least 2 hours before you go to sleep.

5.  Stay away from stimulants such as caffeine and sugar after lunchtime. Avoid alcohol for several hours before you go to bed.

6.  Drink plenty of water throughout the day.  If dehydrated, your body will respond as though it’s in stress, and stress hormones are “awakening” hormones.

7.  Exercise.  Please note, however, that it is important to be aware of the time of day and type of exercise you are performing.  In general, do all intense exercise before dinner.

Sources: Consumer Reports on Health, 5/10; How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy, Paul Chek; “Importance of Sleep: Six reasons not to scrimp on sleep”, Harvard Health Publications; “Sleep: Understanding the Basics”, emedicineHealth.com, “Why Sleep Is Important and What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough”, American Psychological Association.

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