And Remember to Sleep...

I am so jealous of the dog in this photo. Sleep.  It seems so natural and easy for dogs, but it just didn't happen very well for me last night.  At first, I couldn't get to sleep.  My mind kept thinking about everything that was happening with my family. Then,  I moved on to worrying about things.  Are my parents really OK?  Did I lock the doors?  Shut the garage door?  Is the moving van ever going to bring the furniture to my son and daughter-in-law, or will it be held hostage forever? I couldn't seem to shut down my brain.  I did fall asleep at some point, but then I kept waking up.  I think I must have seen the clock at every hour.

Have you every had nights like that?  An occasional night like that is just part of life, and won't do much harm to our bodies.  But, if you don't get enough sleep over a period of time, it can have an impact on your health. 

Many of us are so busy and so stressed trying to get everything done, that we often cut out one of the most important aspects of our lives:  restorative sleep. Most adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night, though many of us miss that mark by 2 hours and more. Many people are sure they are doing just fine on 5 hours a night---they're catching up on work at home, doing housework, paying bills, cooking, shopping, taking care of the kids, trying to organize everything...oh, and the dog needs to be walked.  It often seems like the easiest way to find time to get things done is to stay up later, get up earlier, or both.  No one notices except our bodies.

Why We Need Sleep:
  • Sleep builds and strengthens your immune system. When people are sleep deprived for long periods of time, they are at higher risk for illness. I know of many people who have gone through days or weeks of stress and sleep deprivation to achieve a big goal.  When the deadline is over, they ended up really sick.  
  • Sleep organizes memories, solidifies learning and increases concentration. All you students out there: all-nighters are not a good idea.  Go through your material, study, and then sleep to get the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Sleep regulates mood. Too little sleep = cranky and irritable you.  'Nuff said.
  • Sleep maximizes motor skills.  Physical performance suffers when don't get enough zzz's. Many people are clumsier---I dropped and broke my favorite water mug this morning, not a surprise. You can bet athletes put sleep as a top priority!  Sleep deprivation has also been shown to be just as detrimental to driving as some levels of alcohol intake.  
  • Sleep enables better decision making. When you are short of sleep your ability to make good judgements can be impaired.
  • Sleep repairs brain cells. Whoa, we really need to think about this one!
Are You Getting Enough Sleep to Promote Your Good Health?
  • Preschoolers need 11 hours of sleep each night, on the average.
  • School age children, 10 hours.
  • Teens, 9 hours.
  • Adults, 7-8 hours.
When adults sleep much more or less than the recommended 7-8 hours, studies have shown the mortality rates increase and they don't perform as well on mental tasks. As adults grow older, sleep tends to be lighter and they awaken more frequently, though the actual need for sleep does not go down.

To Help You Sleep Better:
  • Put sleep on your daily schedule.  Try not to scrimp on it to get other things done!
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages past mid afternoon.
  • Engage in regular physical activity, but not within an hour or two before bed, as elevated adrenaline levels may keep you from falling asleep.
  • Stick to a regular "going-to-bed" routine. Make it relaxing, slowing your mind and body. Read or do crossword or sodoku puzzles.  Teach your body the routine of relaxing before sleep.
  • Machines off.  It's best to keep TV's off and computers or any electronic devices that may glow or emit sounds out of the bedroom.  
  • White noise.  Quiet fans, white noise machines, or air cleaners work well for many people, including me.
  • No big meal before bed, but some may choose to have a very light snack. Try a small low-fat yogurt or a graham cracker and low fat milk. 
  • Talk to your doctor if you need more help with sleep. Over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies have been shown to be ineffective on insomnia.  Melatonin may be helpful for some experiencing jet lag, but beware. Some supplements can interfere with other meds you may take, or can be down right dangerous, so be sure to talk with your doctor first.
What can we take from this conversation? 
Sleep is vital to your health!  Make it a priority in your life, and your body and mind will thank you for it.

To your health!!