The S-word: we love it. We can’t live without it. We can have it with a buddy or solo. We always want more of it. We look forward to it every single night…. SLEEP.
When did sleep turn into a rarity? Oh I know; since we entered into the technology and social media riddled 21st century. I don’t know how many nights I’ve gone to bed much later than I would have liked and thought to myself: What did I even just do for the last 3 hours? So many of us take for granted a good night’s sleep until we’ve been deprived of it. TV, facebook, twitter, homework, work: Are these really more important than catching up on your zzz’s? I don’t think so.
The American Psychological Association found that in surveys conducted by the NSF (1999-2004) “it was revealed that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more.” Furthermore more than 40% of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each month. High quality sleep is crucial for our body’s physiological systems to recharge and reboot. In another interesting article posted by Harvard Medical School, they outlined 6 important reasons to not skimp out on sleep:
- Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who had slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
- Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
- Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
- Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
- Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
- Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s natural killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
So it’s obvious that taking the time to ensure we are getting enough good quality sleep is highly beneficial for us to perform at our best. Proper sleep hygiene is essential to creating the proper physical and mental environment that ensures a good night’s sleep and is something that NDs often educate their patients on. Here are some good tips on improving your sleep hygiene:
- Use comfortable bedding. Yes, mattresses can be quite the financial investment, but it is important to think about the benefits! Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep. Evaluate whether or not this is a source of your problem, and make appropriate changes.
- Make your bed! Just like food and how presentation is everything, the more appealing your fresh clean bed looks, the more it can entice you to drift away peacefully.
- Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool (not cold) bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep.
- Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible.
- Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Don't use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body "know" that the bed is associated with sleeping.
- Maintain a regular sleep routine by going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time. Ideally, your schedule will remain the same (+/- 20 minutes) every night of the week.
- Avoid naps if possible. Naps decrease the ‘Sleep Debt’ that is necessary for easy sleep onset which may cause sleep fragmentation and diffulty initiating sleep, and may lead to insomnia.
- Don’t watch TV or read in bed. When you watch TV or read in bed, you associate the bed with wakefulness. (see above: reserve the bed for sleep and sex.)
- Do not drink caffeine too late in the day. The effects of caffeine may last for several hours after ingestion. Caffeine can fragment sleep, and cause difficulty initiating sleep. If you drink caffeine, use it only before noon.
- Avoid inappropriate substances that interfere with sleep. Cigarettes, alcohol, and over-the-counter medications may cause fragmented sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise promotes continuous sleep, however avoid rigorous exercise before bedtime. Rigorous exercise circulates endorphins into the body which may cause difficulty initiating sleep.
And most importantly: Make sleep a priority!
Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!
University of Maryland Medical Center: http://www.umm.edu/sleep/sleep_hyg.htm
American Sleep Association: http://www.sleepassociation.org/index.php?p=sleephygienetips
Canadian Sleep Society: http://www.canadiansleepsociety.com/
Images from: Corbis.com