I was inspired by Ray’s recent post about the importance of sleep in living a long, healthy, life. Personally, I’ve never been much of a night owl – early to bed, early to rise is more my style. Still, I’m a light sleeper, and any little thing wakes me up. I envy my friends who can miss phone calls and alarm clocks because they are so deeply asleep! Sleeping is an issue for many Americans at any age – we’re all familiar with the tropes of the drowsy teenager who wants to go to sleep at 3am and wake up at noon, or the sleep deprived middle-aged and older crowd, kept awake at night with worry and then fatigued during the day. The recent prevalence and popularity of energy drinks (and of course, good ole’ coffee) may indicate just how tired everyone is – so how can we start sleeping “healthy” and wake up in the morning feeling energized and ready to go?
According to CDC, inadequate sleep is a growing problem in the United States. Disorders like insomnia as well as lifestyle traits – like work schedules and constant access to TV and cellphones – have made us a very sleepless nation. The official CDC recommendation for daily sleep for adults 18 years and over is 7 to 9 hours a night. We may think of lack of sleep as simply a nuisance in daily life, but inadequate sleep can have severe consequences. A lack of sleep frequently contributes to car accidents and the CDC also states, “persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.” Thus, sleep is clearly important in keeping anyone happy and healthy.
How to Sleep Well
Have a regular bedtime and waking hour: We may think of ‘bedtimes’ as something for children but consistency is key when it comes to healthy sleeping habits. Setting a time to go to bed and a time to wake up can make your body like ‘clockwork,’ similar to the way you probably get hungry at same time of day that you usually have meals. And as tempting as it may be don’t oversleep even if you didn’t sleep well or get to bed at the right time the night before – it can throw off your sleep cycle.
No naps!: I’ve heard this piece of advice many times before and I always find it rather sobering because I absolutely love a nap, but the truth is a nap during the day will make it harder to sleep at night. If you must nap, nap for only 10-20 minutes, 30 minutes at the most, because if you nap for any longer you will go into deep sleep, and instead of waking up energized and refreshed you will wake groggy and grumpy. Anecdotally, I find if I “nap” for an hour or sometimes even more, I wake up grumpier and more tired than I was before. Instead of napping late in the day to feel energized, try moving around or getting a good dose of sunlight – in San Diego we should have plenty of that!
Exercise – but not too much: Light exercise helps promote healthy sleep – if your body is physically tired, your mind will be too – but be wary, an intense exercise in the few hours before bedtime may actually make it harder to sleep. If you want to push yourself when working out, try and do it earlier in the day.
Keep a pencil and paper nearby: This advice pertains to anyone who might lie in bed at night thinking about the chores and errands they have to do tomorrow or worrying about projects and work. Keep something to write on next to the bed and simply write down any worry that comes to mind – you will know you wrote it down and won’t forget, so you will be free to let the thought slip away from your mind.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol: The caffeine should be a no brainer – as tempting at that espresso might be after dinner, avoiding it will definitely help you sleep. Alcohol is a depressant and while it may initially help you sleep, alcohol will often wake you up throughout the night because it irritates the body and makes more bathroom trips necessary!
Still can’t sleep? If you still have a hard time sleeping, relax and keep trying. If sleep doesn’t come, read a book for twenty minutes or so, and then try again. Avoid getting out of bed or watching TV – noise and light make it harder for most to sleep. Keep trying and get into that regular sleep pattern!
Article by Nika Reyes