Sleep. What a wonderful word. Laying down at night when your mind and body are exhausted and all that’s asked of you is to close your eyes, while you drift away to dreamland.
Ideally that’s what every night would feel like, we’d crawl into bed and fall asleep moments later, but how often does that actually happen? Often times we lay in bed thinking , worrying, or tossing and turning out of discomfort, wasting those precious hours of sleep. Maybe you have a sick kid or a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night yet, or you may find yourself staying up late watching TV, when you know you should be in bed. There are numerous reasons for lack of sleep, what’s yours?
Despite the very valid reasons you may have for a lack of sleep, it doesn’t change how important sleep is to your sanity and your health. Aside from the obvious effects of sleep deprivation, such as mood and alertness, a lack of sleep also affects your immune system, metabolism, learning, and memory. The Harvard Women’s Health Watch has identified six reasons to get enough sleep:
- Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
- Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
- Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
- Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
- Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
- Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
How much sleep is enough? Eight hours have been said to be enough for a long time, but it really depends on the person. Personally, 7 – 7.5 hours of sleep is perfect for me, sometimes more than that is too much and less is definitely not enough. My husband can run on 5-6 hours a sleep, we’re all just different! You probably know by now how much sleep is enough for you, it is just a matter of making sure you are actually getting it! If you have trouble falling asleep, I suggest you shut off the TV an hour or so before you go to bed and do something quiet. This might help you calm your mind and my may just find that you’re ready to go to bed before you thought you were! I find that if I watch TV at night it keeps me awake longer. Just like you do for your kids, give yourself a bed time if you need to–just ensure you get the right amount of sleep.
There are other ways to not only improve the amount of sleep you get, but the quality of sleep you get. Exercising will help you stay more alert during they day, and also increase the amount of time your body spends in deep sleep, the phase of sleep when our body repairs itself. By putting physical stress on your body through exercise, your body will need to spend more time repairing, therefore you will sleep more soundly! I have also found stretching prior to bedtime relaxing and decreases my stiffness in the morning. Take a few minutes before bed time and give your legs, arms, and back a good stretch. This will also help with workout recovery, as you will release the lactic acid from your muscles and avoid soreness.
Listen to your body, if it says “take a nap,” then by all means–take a nap if you can! Even if it is just closing your eyes for 20 minutes during that afternoon slump, let your brain rest for a little bit before you continue on with your day. During the winter months, especially, you may feel like you require more sleep with the decreased amount of daylight. If you feel like you need it an extra hour, then make it happen! Your body and mind will thank you. So there you have it, permission to go back to bed! By creating a bed time, exercising, eating well, and staying hydrated during the day you will increase the quality and the quantity of your sleep and overall, your quality of life! Sleep tight! Don’t let the bug beds bite!