A “good night’s sleep” is something everybody wants, but not everybody manages to get it in today’s high-stress, over-scheduled world. March has been designated National Sleep Awareness Month, which can serve as a reminder that we all need to step back and take an honest look at our sleep habits with an eye toward how we can improve both the quantity and the quality of the sleep we get.
Why Sleep is So Important
Although scientists don’t yet know everything there is to know about why we need sleep, they’re learning more with each passing year, and they’re finding that adequate, good quality sleep is as essential to our health as good, nutritious food and sufficient exercise.
For example, did you know that poor sleep has been linked to increased inflammation in the body, especially in the digestive tract? Here are some of the other physical and mental health functions that rely on both ample sleep and good quality sleep …
- good memory (Sleep allows you to strengthen memories or “practice” skills learned while you were awake in a process called consolidation)
- stable mood (Poor sleep is linked with irritability — something most of us can attest to — as well as an increased risk for depression.)
- focus and concentration (A study comparing traditionally sleep-deprived interns with interns who were allowed to sleep longer showed that the sleep-deprived group made 36% more errors than the non-sleep deprived group.)
- creativity (Researchers have found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.)
- maintaining a healthy weight (Good sleepers tend to eat fewer calories than poor sleepers and lose more body fat as opposed to muscle mass when dieting.)
- keeping blood sugar levels steady (Poor or insufficient sleep leads to an increased risk for Type 2 Diabetes.)
- keeping your heart and brain healthy (Sleeping less than 7-8 hours a night is linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.)
- lower stress levels (Adults who sleep less than 8 hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association.)
Making Your Bedroom More Sleep-Friendly
Make 2018 the year you banish electronics from your bedroom. Make your bedroom a room that’s made for sleep with soft, comfortable bedding, quiet decor, and soft lighting. If you like to read before bed, make it something soothing and steer clear of “thrillers” or “page-turners” that might encourage you to keep reading when you should be shutting off the light and closing your eyes.
Changing Your Habits
Learning how to guide your body — and mind — to wind down and relax at the end of the day may require some changes in your routine. At least one hour before bed, start unwinding with a few relaxing stretches and/or breathing exercises. Dim the lights and sip a cup of chamomile tea before bed. Set a time for getting “off-line” and stick to it. (Your phone, texts and emails will all be there tomorrow morning!)
Most importantly, set a consistent time for going to bed and waking up, and stick with it. Sleeping in on the weekends just means you’re not getting enough sleep during the week!
If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about possible solutions.