Most people are aware that a good night’s sleep is important, enabling the repair and rejuvenation of cells throughout the body. When you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, you’re probably dragging at work the next day, have trouble concentrating, feel out of it and may have a slower reaction time to that car stopping in front of you while driving.
According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80 million American adults are chronically sleep deprived, meaning they sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours a night. Anyone who regularly sleeps less than six hours a night has an elevated risk of depression, psychosis and stroke.
Lack of sleep is also directly tied to obesity – without enough sleep, the stomach and other organs overproduce the hunger hormone ghrelin, causing us to eat more than we need. Additionally, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a worsened appearance and disrupted mood. Sleep-deprived individuals are likely to look older, with more visible wrinkles and dark circles around the eyes. Sleep deprivation can make us more irritable and impairs our ability to both communicate effectively and cope with workplace stressors.
People often think of sleep as an adversary, a state depriving an individual of productivity and play. The reasons for not getting enough sleep vary, though they commonly include demanding or irregular work schedules, prioritizing social life over sleep needs, going to bed in noisy environments, overdoing it on electronics, consuming too much caffeine or having too many worries on one’s mind.
If you aren’t getting enough sleep or are not falling asleep early enough, you may be overscheduling activities that can prevent you from getting the quiet relaxation time you need to prepare for sleep.
Here are simple changes you can make throughout the day so you can sleep more restfully at night:
• Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up the same time each day. Sleeping later on weekends won’t fully make up for the lack of sleep during the week and will make it harder to wake up early on Monday morning.
• Power down from digital devices. Using smartphones and computer screens late into the night can interfere with the ability to sleep because these devices emit blue light that decreases the body’s natural production and secretion of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
• Have a bedtime routine. Try to establish a nightly wind-down routine, beginning about an hour before bedtime. This can include listening to soothing music or reading.
• Make your bedroom dark. Light is the single most important environmental factor affecting your ability to sleep. Consider blackout shades or curtains that block out all sunlight and outdoor electronic lights.
• Keep room temperature cool. If your room is warm, this may interrupt your sleep quality.
• Seek silence. Sleeping in noisy environments prevents people from falling asleep and staying in a state of deep, restorative slumber. Earplugs or white-noise machines can filter out noise distractions during sleep time.
• Sleep partners can be snooze stealers. A partner who snores loudly or moves around frequently can keep you awake. Sleeping in separate beds may be the solution. Children and/or pets on your bed can also be disruptive to restful sleep.
• Don’t lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.
• Limit caffeine consumption. Caffeine is a stimulant, and its effects can take as long as eight hours to wear off fully. Most sleep experts recommend ending your caffeine consumption by 3 p.m.
• Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A large meal may cause indigestion that can interfere with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause frequent trips to the bathroom.
• Don’t take naps after 3 p.m. When you nap too close to your bedtime you’re talking away the sleep drive that was building all day, making it harder to fall asleep at night.
• Be physically active. Physical activity can improve the quality and quantity of sleep by reducing stress and anxiety and increasing total sleep time and quality of sleep.
Civilian Health Promotion Services will be offering educational briefings on healthy sleep during March and April. For more information, visit AFMCwellness.com or contact your local CHPS team. Comprehensive information on sleep health can be found on the National Institutes of Health website at www.nih.gov.