A “good night’s sleep” is something everyone wants but is not something everyone manages to get. March is designated as National Sleep Awareness Month, which provides us with an opportunity to look at our own sleep habits and search for ways to improve on the quantity and quality of sleep we get. Eating right and exercising are used to maintain good health, but sleep can also affect one’s wellness. Sleep plays a critical role – allowing for the brain and body to recharge from the previous day’s activities. Failing to get enough sleep can have both short-term and long-term effects, reduce performance at work, and cause irritability and depression. Inadequate sleep has also been shown to have an effect on the hormones that regulate hunger. According to the National Sleep Foundation, at least 40 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder.
Why Sleep is So Important
- 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.
- Researchers have found that people tend to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help stimulate the creative process.
- In adults, poor quality sleep is one risk factor that can contribute to cardiac rhythm disorder, hypertension, chronic headaches, alertness problems, mental acuity issues, and attention deficit-like behavior.
- Good sleepers tend to eat fewer calories than poor sleepers and lose more body fat as opposed to muscle mass when dieting.
- Impaired sleep can sometimes lead to depression, mental anxiety, impotence in men, and hormonal irregularities in women.
- Poor or insufficient sleep can lead to an increased risk for Type 2 Diabetes.
- Sleeping less than 7-8 hours a night is linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
What Causes Bad Sleep?
There are many different reasons for impaired sleep. Some of the more common causes include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea. This can cause snoring and interruption of breathing during the night.
- Neurologic and musculoskeletal disorders.
- Some medications can make you sleepy (Benadryl products) but deprive you of important restorative REM sleep.
- Sleep disorders of the brain, such as central apnea or central breathing disorders. These are typically suffered by people with cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, or other diseases.
- Traveling to a different time zone.
- Working an overnight shift.
- Treatment Suggestions
Making Your Bedroom More Sleep-Friendly
Make your bedroom a room that is made for sleep with comfortable bedding, quiet decor, and soft lighting. You may also wish to invest in a sound machine. Make sure to turn the thermostat down before bed and keep the room free from any light. If you like to read before bed, make it something soothing.
Changing Your Habits
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. Set a time for stopping electronics and stick to it – your text messages and emails will all be there in the morning! Most importantly, have a set time for going to bed and waking up. If you find yourself sleeping in on weekends, you are probably not getting enough sleep during the week. Also, avoid eating a heavy meal a couple hours before bed, and eliminate caffeine four to six hours before retiring. Other suggestions include yoga, meditation, Melatonin, and essential oils (lavender, cedarwood, sandalwood).
Good sleep is essential to good health. Sleeping at least seven hours each night can help you achieve optimal physical and mental performance.
Credit: H. Blackwell, Albany Med Center, Albany NY