Six Stress Busting Tips, Continued--
The Importance of Sleep
By Kitty J. Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT, Certified Life Strategies &
Stress Management Coach
This is the third in a series of articles on six stress busters that are critical to one's optimal health and sense of wellbeing. The first week, after listing the six suggestions in only the loosest order of importance, I wrote about the critical need for one to tend to proper hydration for optimal health. Last week, I wrote about the need for one to tend to one's nutritional needs by ingesting whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and paying attention to eating healthy portions of protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and fiber. This week, I would like to speak to the need for proper amounts of sleep.
Sleep is another critical component of optimal health. It really won't matter very much in the long run how healthy a person is in other ways if he or she is constantly sleep deprived because of an inadequate amount of sleep. Unfortunately, many people are, in fact, chronically sleep deprived either because of poor planning or because of specific physical and physiological reasons.
Experts generally agree that the average adult needs between 6 1/2 and 8 hours of sleep per night. Because this is an average, obviously some adults can cope quite well with a little less and some adults need a little more. Just as important as the amount of sleep one gets each night, however, is the quality of the sleep that one manages to get each night. Quality vs. quantity is not something you may have thought much about with regard to how much and what type of sleep you are getting each night, but, trust me, it merits attention.
First, consider whether or not you are getting sufficient sleep to get through your days feeling generally alert, awake, and able to tackle the variety of responsibilities that you have both at work or at home. If you are feeling rested most days, perhaps you can skip this article. If, however, you are routinely in need of a caffeine "pick-me-up" in the middle of most afternoons in order to finish out the work day or you suffer from sleeplessness one or more nights per month, keep reading.
Don't feel that you are alone if sleeplessness is a problem that you face periodically. According to a 2000 study of Americans regarding sleep, 43% of the adults surveyed indicated that for at least a few days every month, they feel so sleepy during the day that it interferes with their ability to conduct their daily activities, and one out of five, or 20%, reported feeling this level of daytime sleepiness at least a few days or more per week. Over 51% of American workers reported that sleepiness had interfered with the amount of work they were able to complete, and not surprisingly, over two-thirds of shift workers reported experiencing problems sleeping. Another nearly 25% reported having difficulty getting up for work two or more mornings per week, and a third of those surveyed admitted that they would take a nap at work if that were allowed.
Now all of these statistics are troubling enough, but at least feeling sleepy at work for most office workers isn't a life threatening condition; but what about those who work with heavy machinery or who work in risky conditions that require one to be alert and on their toes all day? And there is the additional troubling statistic indicating that over 30% of American drivers have admitted that they have fallen asleep at the wheel at least once. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 100,000 traffic accidents and 1,500 traffic-related fatalities are the result of a driver falling asleep behind the wheel. Clearly, not getting enough sleep can create health issues for individuals in more ways than one.
Other side effects of sleep deprivation include but are not limited to increased irritability; feelings of anxiety and even depression; a decreased ability to concentrate and understand information (one reason your children need adequate sleep in order to perform well in school); a suppressed immune system; and undesirable weight gain because sleeplessness and/or sleep interruption can interfere with the production of hormones that help regulate a healthy weight in the average adult. Are you convinced yet that sleep is an issue that merits serious attention?
You may be wondering at this point what you can do to improve the odds of your getting a more restful and energizing sleep. Thankfully, there are many possible steps for your to consider depending on your specific circumstances. For example, check your habits around your bedtime. Do you need to establish a set time for yourself when you make yourself go to bed in order to signal to your brain that it is time to get some rest? Or, are you too tired to drag yourself off to bed so you continue to sit in front of the TV until you have fallen asleep and then wake up in the middle of the night with the TV airing a late night (or early morning) infomercial? If you fall into the latter category, you may need to change your evening routine. If you are staying up late to watch TV or surf the Internet, try turning off all your electronic devices for a few nights and see if that helps you to get to sleep sooner. Some studies have suggested that reading your iPad or Kindle may be a bad idea right before bedtime since the backlight and its electronic source can trick your brain into believing that it is still daytime and it (your brain) will resist the idea of going to sleep even though your body may be tired.
Other practical things you can try to improve your quantity AND quality of sleep include the following:
- Take a warm bath or relaxing shower prior to bedtime
- Avoid strenuous exercise right before going to bed
- Drink herbal tea or a warm glass of milk prior to going to bed
- Read a book instead of an electronic reader and read to a warm light with low wattage
- If you have a television in the bedroom, turn it off before trying to go to sleep, and consider removing it to another room. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary where you go to relax and rest.
- If you have a desk with your computer or piles of work in your bedroom, use the same advice regarding moving it out. Your bedroom should be separate and apart from anything related to your work.
- Strive to go to bed at a certain time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
- Avoid eating a heavy meal late in the evening...move your dinner hour up if you need to.
- Avoid anything with caffeine in it after noon every day and avoid drinking alcohol late in the evening. Caffeine and alcohol both tend to stimulate the brain and can cause you to either have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.
- If you have trouble with staying asleep after you have gone to sleep, especially pay attention to your caffeine intake and the amount of alcohol you are drinking in the evenings.
- If you are a pre- or peri-menopausal woman, consider talking to your doctor about your sleep issues. Hormone fluctuations can have a significant effect on your ability to sleep and stay asleep each night.
Sleep is an absolute necessity and too many Americans are struggling through their days feeling groggy, grumpy, and out of sorts because they haven't been getting the sleep they need in order to function properly. Going without adequate sleep or having sleep interruption issues go untended can create hormone imbalances that lead to listlessness, weight gain, and even depression. Don't ignore this very important aspect of your daily life. There is a reason why you get sleepy--it means you need to sleep! Make time for it just like you would make time for other life enhancing experiences. You will be glad you did.