I would bet that you have little or no idea just how important sleep really is. Sure, no one likes to be tired, and we all know how good we feel after a good night’s rest. But did you know that if you consistently don’t get enough sleep, you could be putting yourself at risk for: overeating, weight gain and obesity; hypertension and heart problems; anxiety and depression; poor memory function and retention; and decreased immune system function (read: more colds and flu and possibly more serious illnesses).
I saw an article on Yahoo today about sleep, which reminded me of the time I spent studying sleep medicine, a few years ago. That small course was time well spent, as it taught me things about sleep that I will always remember, and might even be adding years to my life, right now.
If too little sleep is bad for your health, does that mean more is better? Not necessarily, as some of the same studies that showed health problems as a result of too little sleep, showed similar results for people regularly getting “too much” sleep, such as over nine hours. It’s not a big deal if you’re catching up on your “sleep debt” occasionally by sleeping in, but our bodies seem to like between 7-8 hours sleep as the physical ideal.
And what’s this about the weight gain? Several studies have shown that when you don’t get enough sleep (i.e. less than six or seven hours), your body actually produces hormones that stimulate appetite and weight gain. Pretty scary! How’s that for motivation?
Here are my top five sleep tips:
1) Wind down, lights down – before you go to bed, start to wind things down. Turn off the lights in the rest of your home and just have a little bedside lamp on as you get ready for bed. If you can, keep the lights in the bathroom low as you brush your teeth etc. Decreased light quiets the mind and signals it that it’s time for bed.
2) No late night net-surfing or TV watching – on a similar theme, it’s been shown that the bright light of a computer screen or TV can trick the brain into thinking it’s still daytime, which can make it harder to wind down and make the transition to sleep.
3) Avoid B Vitamins in the afternoon/evening – I don’t know if this has been scientifically proven, but a naturopath once told me that it’s well known that taking B Vitamins (for example, in a typical multivitamin) after 4 p.m. can cause vivid dreams and nightmares. I’ve observed this reaction in me, several times, so there may be something to it.
4) Avoid alcohol at night – Alcohol might make you sleepy, or help you fall asleep, but it actually decreases the quality of your deep sleep, leaving you less rested in the morning.
5) Block out early morning light – I learned this from one of my attending physicians when I was studying Emergency Medicine and working lots of shifts. If you have thin curtains, the daylight coming in will be sure to wake you up prematurely. In one apartment I actually bought black posterboard sheets and put them up behind the curtains when I went to bed at night. I slept like a baby, for as long as I needed to.
The short but interesting Yahoo article about sleep was by Lucy Danziger, the Editor-in-Chief of Self magazine. Did you know that talking on cell phones late at night can also affect the quality of your sleep? To read her article, "Why Sleep is (Almost) as Important as Breathing", click here