Let’s face it, sleep is often the first thing to go when you find yourself over-scheduled and staring at a mile-long to-do list. There will always be more emails to answer, lunches to pack, or laundry to do. And since the rest of your day is accounted for, sleep seems like the one area you can cut into without consequence.
Is short-changing yourself on sleep truly without consequence?
Science tells us there are serious effects of poor sleep hygiene and it’s not just your mood, ability to concentrate, or general alertness — although those are certainly significant!
Losing a few hours of sleep has a serious impact on your health. And if you’re losing sleep more frequently you’re putting yourself at risk for serious health issues including heart disease and stroke.
Why are Healthy Sleep Habits so Important?
Before the invention of electricity, scientists believed that the average person slept ten hours a night. I know, hard to believe, right? These days, we find it difficult, if not impossible to hit the recommended eight hours a night.
But why is sleep so important?
Your body needs time to recover, to grow, to repair tissue, and make hormones. But sleep is just as important for the mind. When you sleep, your brain restores itself and stores all of the information it gathered during that day into memories. Sleep is critical for brain function. That’s why people who are deprived of sleep for long periods of time can show signs of psychosis!
Listening to Your Body
Ever heard the term “circadian rhythms?” Circadian rhythms are the patterns your body goes through in a day — in other words, your body clock.
These rhythms regulate the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin (among other things) and are based on the earth’s rotation. In fact, these rhythms have been ingrained in our DNA since the beginning of humanity.
Our bodies perform best when we follow our body clock, which makes it important to stick to a regular schedule of eating, sleeping, and exercising. Humans crave routine, so it’s no surprise that those who stick to regular schedules often live longer, healthier lives.
The more you stray from your body’s natural rhythms, the more stress your body feels, making you susceptible to disease, illness, and aging. It’s hard to escape biology!
Improve Your Sleep with These Sleep Hygiene Tips
If you suffer from insomnia (poor sleep quality, abnormal wakefulness, or the inability to sleep) you may be tempted to rely on prescription sleep aids or caffeine. The problem with that is those usually just address symptoms, not causes.
Try implementing some of these healthy sleep habits, and you may be surprised at how quickly you’ll see an improvement in the quality of your sleep. Sweet dreams!
- Keep a regular sleep schedule. Aim to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning. Many people use the weekends to catch up on sleep they’ve missed during the week. However, this habit often interferes with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
- Create the ideal sleep environment. Your bedroom should be calm, relaxing, and free from distraction. Make sure your bedroom is dark, the room temperature is cool (between 60 and 67 degrees), and your bedding is comfortable. Sleep masks, room darkening shades, and white noise machines can be great tools to help you achieve a sleep-friendly environment.
- Keep electronics to a minimum (or out of your bedroom entirely). This includes TV, cell phones, laptops, and even alarm clocks (if you tend to obsess over the time when you awaken at night). Electronics also emit a light that is similar to daylight and can trick your body into thinking it’s daytime. Many of these devices delay or decrease the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Make sure your bed is strictly a sleep zone. No catching up on work, checking emails, eating a snack, or surfing the Web. These habits cause your body to associate the bed with wakefulness and disrupt your circadian rhythms.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bedtime. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can make it difficult to go to sleep or stay asleep. Steer clear of coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate. Although many people think that alcohol will induce sleep, after some time it actually acts as a stimulant and disrupts your sleep.
If you’re tossing and turning at night and need some medical advice, use our Find a Doctor tool to locate a sleep medicine specialist or sleep disorder diagnostic center near you.*
Stay tuned for the next installment of The Road to Wellness, in which we will focus on your mental well-being. Want to catch up on previous Road to Wellness blogs? Read the whole Road to Wellness series.
*Check your health plan benefits for coverage.