The Cost of Poor Sleep is High: Tips to Achieve Healthier Sleep
Statistics say most Americans are chronically sleep deprived. This affects us subtly, and, over time, the effects build until they cause disease and possibly become life threatening. Turns out, adequate sleep is a biological necessity for good health.
A night or two of sleep deprivation produces groggy, unfocused and sluggish thinking. These changes are accompanied by slower reaction times, increased appetite and being more emotional. Most of us compensate for these symptoms with caffeine or sugar.
While these symptoms are noticeable, more than 700 unseen genetic changes can occur within the body after as just a week of too little sleep. Research has tied lack of sleep to an increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression, heart attack, stroke and death. New studies are also linking sleep loss to Alzheimer’s Disease.
Sleep loss is a public safety hazard and increases workplace accidents.
If you think you’re doing well on less than seven hours per night, it might be that too little sleep is affecting your judgment. If you work in a profession where it’s important to be able to judge your level of functioning (think airline pilot, truck driver, equipment operator, surgeon), this can be a big problem.
- Drowsiness behind the wheel causes 100,000 auto accidents and 1,550 crash-related death each year, making it as risky as driving drunk. -National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- Sleep deprivation was also a factor in disasters like nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl as well as the Exxon Valdez oil spill. -National Sleep Foundation
- Fatigued workers cost employers about $1,200 to $3,100 per employee in declining job performance each year, while sleepy workers are estimated to cost employers $136 billion a year in health-related lost productivity. -National Safety Council
- Sleep-related workplace accidents and mistakes cost companies $31 billion each year. -Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
Poor Sleep Habits are Often to Blame for Sleep Deprivation.
We stay up late to complete a work project, get up early to make sure we get the kids to school on time and over-stimulate ourselves with substances and activities. Learning and practicing good “sleep hygiene” ourselves and teaching it to our children is essential for our health and the health of our families. While good sleep hygiene habits seem like common sense, living them out takes commitment and planning.
Tips to Improve Sleep.
Establish a bedtime routine.
Parents create routines for their children to help them get ready for bed and sleep. Sometimes adults forget these routines can help signal our body and brains that it’s time to sleep! Consider making some adjustments to your bedtime routine:
- Stop using all electronics one hour before you go to bed. Research shows that the light emitted by our electronic devices trick our brains into thinking it is daylight, engaging your brain and reducing your body’s ability to settle down for sleep.
- Avoid eating one hour before bed or eat only a small snack containing foods high in tryptophansuch as bananas, yogurt, whole grain cereal or toast.
- Practice a relaxation techniquesuch as deep breathing to reduce anxiety and muscle tension.
- Spend 10-15 minutes writing down the things you worry aboutso you can let go of them instead of carrying them to bed with you.
- Take a warm bath or reading a non-electronic book or magazineto help you relax and empty your mind.
Change up your personal habits.
- Set a consistent bedtime and waking time.Don’t vary the times by more than one hour otherwise your “internal clock” will need to reset itself, and this process can take up to three months.
- Limit naps to 30-45 minutes, and avoid napping in the late afternoon.
- Avoid caffeine after noon. Caffeine takes fourteen hours to leave the blood stream and hides in innocuous places like teas, chocolate, pain relievers, energy water, diet supplements and protein bars as well as coffee, soda and energy drinks.
- Avoid alcohol in the evenings. While alcohol makes you sleepy initially, a few hours after you have a drink, the alcohol level in your blood falls and produces a “wake-up effect.”
- Engage in at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise daily. According to new guidelines, the 30 minutes can be broken up over the course of the day, so don’t sweat it if you don’t have a big block of time. But avoid working out within two hours of bedtime, or it will decrease your ability to fall asleep.
- Get out into the sun—even in the winter.Research shows exposure to natural light helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Create a more “sleepable” bedroom.
- Keep your room slightly cool.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
- Use comfortable beddingto promote staying asleep instead of waking to “rearrange.”
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible.
- Keep bedroom quiet or allow sounds which help you to get to sleep and stay asleep. Sometimes “white noise”, such as a fan, is helpful.
- Use your bed for sleeping only, not as an office, workroom, or place to watch television. By reserving your bed for sleep you teach your body to pair going to bed with sleep.
Still Can’t Sleep?
For some people sleep remains an issue even when practicing good sleep hygiene. Multiple medical and mental health conditions as well as medication can inhibit sleep. If you consistently struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep, talk with a physician or another medical professional to learn if medical issues may be contributing to your sleep difficulties and treat related medical problems.
Sometimes sleeping difficulties are connected to stress, depression or anxiety. A mental health specialist can help people change their behaviors and manage the thoughts, feelings and emotions that can interfere with a good night’s sleep. Many Pine Rest providers can help with these issues; to find a professional, visit: www.pinerest.org/find-a-clinician.