According to recent studies, approximately 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep loss or sleep disorders. The annual cost of chronic sleep loss is estimated at $16 billion in health care expenses and $50 billion in lost productivity. A lack of sleep puts your body under additional stress, which may trigger an increase of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones during the day.
Your body is not able to undergo the proper recover cycles when you fail to get adequate sleep. This means that you miss the opportunity for your blood pressure to dip during the evening. This may negatively impact your heart and vascular system by increasing C-reactive protein (CRP), released when there is inflammation in the body, which has been shown to increase the risk of developing heart disease. Too little sleep also compromises immune functioning because we fail to produce the necessary hormones and other molecules we need to fight off infection.
Sleep is not just about giving our system a rest. It is also the time when our body and brain do some of their most important work to repair and rebuild muscle tissue and strengthen neural connections that improve learning and memory. The area of the brain that may be most affected by sleep, or lack of it, is the prefrontal cortex – the part that’s responsible for executive functioning processes such as learning, judgment, reasoning, memory consolidation, and understanding.
Sleep deprivation and sleepiness have adverse effects on performance, response times, accuracy, attention, and concentration. Lack of quality sleep has been associated with a wide range of quality-of-life measures such as social functioning, mental and physical health – even early death. It’s also been correlated with obesity, increases in smoking and alcohol use, inactivity, inflammation and heart disease, and blood sugar imbalances.
Most people are well aware that they should be getting more sleep but fail to make it a priority because there are so many other things that could or should be getting done. We convince ourselves we’ll just do “one more thing” before bed. Then, before you know it, precious hours slip mindlessly, and sleeplessly, on by. In order to get the adequate sleep we need to fully rest, it’s important that we make bedtime a priority, try to stick with a consistent routines, and establish bedtime rituals that support a better quality of sleep once we do get there.
While some activities can assist you in falling and staying asleep long enough to feel rested, there are others that you should avoid before bedtime. Here are a few tips for sleeping well:
- Go to bed early. Some studies suggest that early to bed and early to rise is more suited for our natural rhythms.
- Don’t toss and turn. If you have trouble falling asleep, don’t just lie there. Go do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
- Limit naps. Napping can be helpful to recharge your energy, but be sure to keep them brief. Nap only for less than an hour, and always before 3 p.m.
- Wake up at the same time on the weekend that you do on weekdays. Though it’s tempting to sleep till noon, on your days off, it is best to keep timing consistent. This enables you to build a steady pattern around your sleep schedule.
- Avoid late-day caffeine. Don’t consume caffeine in the afternoon and at night. It stays in your system for hours and can make it hard for you to fall asleep.
- Adjust the lights in your bedroom. Dim the lights in the evening so your body knows it will soon be time to sleep. Let in the sunlight in the morning to boost your alertness.
- Eat a little. Never eat a large meal right before bedtime. While it may cause you to feel drowsy, your body will have to work hard to process all of that food, which can actually stimulate your system. You can enjoy a healthy snack or light dessert (such as a handful of almonds or a small bowl of frozen blueberries with yogurt) so you don’t go to bed hungry.
- Turn off technology. Take some time to wind down before going to bed. Get away from the computer, turn off the TV and your cell phone, and relax quietly for 15-30 minutes. Parents should keep TVs and computers out of their children’s bedrooms.
- Avoid alcohol right before bed. While it seems like a drink or two may help you fall asleep, it may also keep you from getting the quality of sleep you need. The body quickly metabolizes alcohol, which has a stimulating effect on the brain. This disrupts sleep, even when you don’t wake up.
- Keep a notebook handy. As the brain begins to relax, we tend to have some of our most creative ideas. The challenge is trying to retain these ah-ha moments for morning can cause stress. Jot down any new ideas, to-do list items or nagging thoughts on a piece of paper so you can let your brilliant brain get the rest it needs to put things into action in the morning.
This article is reprinted from the June 2016 issue of Contentment. Subscribe to the free magazine today and begin your journey to a happier, healthier and longer life!
About Contentment Magazine
The dictionary defines “content” as being in a state of peaceful happiness. The AIS magazine is called Contentment because we want all of our guests and members to find contentment in their lives by learning about stress management and finding what works best for each them. Stress is unavoidable, and comes in many shapes and sizes that makes being in a state of peaceful happiness seem like a very lofty goal. But happiness is easy to find once you are able to find ways to manage your stress and keep a healthy perspective when going through difficult times in life. You will always have stress, but stress does not always have you!