Remember when you were young and you could sleep for hours? I know that may seem like another lifetime, but I can still remember hopping into my bed without a care in the world and sleeping like a rock all night long. Fast forward to today and, although I can still “hop” into my bed, I’m not exactly sleeping like a rock! I have no trouble falling asleep but then I wake up around 2:00 a.m. and toss and turn for what seems like an eternity! Eventually I do fall back to sleep only to wake up a couple hours later feeling exhausted. Sleep can be one of the best things we do for ourselves which is why not getting enough can be sooooo frustrating!
Sleep is the foundation of a healthy body and mind because it affects EVERYTHING! It boosts your memory, helps you look younger, prevents disease, lowers your risk for heart attacks, curbs your appetite and even helps you to feel happier and less anxious. So if you have ever laid awake at night watching the minutes tick by, I am sure you have felt the detrimental effects that lack of sleep can have on you. You probably woke up the next day feeling cranky, hungry and stressed out!
Recently I came across an article on a sleep study that revealed that losing as little as 16 minutes per night can dramatically affect your productivity the next day. What….16 minutes?? Sometimes I toss and turn for an hour or two! Researchers found that when the participants slept just 16 fewer minutes per night they were more distracted and could not think as clearly the next day. What was interesting though was that if the next day was a day off, the symptoms of less sleep were absent. So, when we know we don’t have to be productive the next day, we are not stressed about losing sleep! Go figure!
As I dove deeper into my research, I came across another interesting fact about sleep deprivation with regards to daylight savings time. Did you know that when we turn the clocks forward in the spring and lose an hour of sleep, there is a spike in heart attacks the next day? And when we gain an hour in the fall, the rate of heart attacks drops the next day. It has also been noted that there is a similar rise and fall in traffic accidents in relation to daylight savings time. Note to self….stay home the day after we move the clocks forward!
Here in Arizona we do not observe daylight savings time, but I definitely feel the shift in my sleep patterns in the spring. I am going to bed at the same time yet I am waking up at least an hour earlier because the sun is up. Add that to the hour or two during the night that I lay awake and I am lucky if I get 6 hours of sleep! Not good!!
There can be many reasons why we are having trouble sleeping. The most obvious one for many of us is the stress of our daily lives. It seems harder and harder to turn our minds off as we prepare to go to sleep. Other contributing factors may be mental or physical health conditions and undiagnosed sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
Now that we know we need more sleep, what are some of the things we can do to get it? Experts agree that the #1 tip to ensure a good nights sleep is to get on a consistent sleep schedule. This means you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. People who have irregular sleep schedules tend to have slower metabolisms and are more prone to cardiovascular issues whereas those who conform to a regular schedule tend to be healthier.
Here are some other tips to optimize your sleep:
* Exercise – try to exercise at least 30 minutes 5 days/week but not later than 2-3 hours before bed.
* Avoid caffeine and nicotine for at least 8 hours before bed.
* Avoid alcoholic beverages before bed – alcohol may relax you but it keeps you from getting into a deep REM sleep.
* Avoid large meals late at night which can cause indigestion.
* Create a good sleeping environment which means no TV’s, computers, cell phones or bright lights allowed in the bedroom.
* Relax – unwinding in the evening should be an important part of your sleep schedule.
As I read over this list, the one area that I definitely fall short on is “relax.” My typical routine when I get home from work is to eat dinner, work on the computer for an hour or two, read the paper and maybe watch a little TV. Boring, right?? But, my point is I am going, going, going right up to the time I go to bed. Doesn’t sound too relaxing, does it? I know that having that downtime before bed would help me to not only get to bed earlier but have better quality sleep. And if it means getting rid of the bags under my eyes, I’m all in!!
So back to my original question….are you getting enough sleep?
If not, what’s one thing you already know you could be doing to optimize your sleep?
Is tonight the night to do it? I hope so!
Sweet dreams everyone!