Spend some time during Sleep Awareness Week focusing on ways to get more — and better — rest
If you’re like most adults, you’re not getting the 7 to 9 hours of sleep your body needs every night. Between 50 and 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, and even for those who don’t, our sleep is not as restful as it could be. There are physical reasons that sleep is important, including that being rested helps to keeps you safe and alert.
Sleep Awareness Week, which is March 11–17, is the perfect time to learn more about sleep. Here we provide some basic information about why you should care about your sleep, as well as how to improve yours by taking some simple steps.
Why do we need sleep?
Physically. Our bodies need sleep to function. Deprive your body of sleep over time and you are weakening your immune system, which can cause you to come down with infections, such as the common cold, more often. Many of us put on weight when we’re tired. Being chronically exhausted can even show on your face, causing you to age prematurely. People who are chronically sleep deprived may not live as long, and they have a higher risk of certain very serious medical conditions, from high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease to diabetes, some forms of cancer, and Alzheimer’s. On a day-to-day basis, lack of sleep can threaten your immediate physical safety if you get behind the wheel of a car, since being tired impairs your motor skills to the extent that you are more likely to get into an auto accident.
Mentally. It is harder to learn, to concentrate, and to recall information as well as memories when you don’t get enough rest. You might observe that when you are sleep deprived making decisions seems more challenging. Sleep supports our brain in functioning well during our waking hours.
Emotionally. It can take an emotional toll on us, and often those close to us, when we don’t get enough sleep. Your relationships may be under additional strain if you don’t have the patience and “reserves” to tend to issues calmly and productively. Maybe you are more moody and irritable, or even feel depressed, when you are chronically tired. It can be harder to manage the normal emotions and stress that arise during the course of our busy and demanding lives.
Productivity. Think about how much you’re able to accomplish when you’ve had a good night’s sleep. A lack of sleep can leave you feeling lethargic and tired right when you need to perform at your job or in school. You might find it harder to think creatively or solve a problem if you’re fighting the urge to take a nap. Even our motivation is affected by how much sleep we have had. So, to rise to the occasion and meet the challenges in your life, one of the best investments you can make is to give yourself the time and conditions for good sleep.
Are you sleep deprived?
Here are ways to tell that you need to increase how much sleep you’re getting:
- Relying on naps to get through the day
- Using weekend mornings to sleep late
- Struggling to stay awake during meetings or classes in the daytime
- Finding yourself getting sleepy in a warm room
- Being fatigued in the afternoons
- Struggling to get out of bed in the morning
- Setting alarms for fear of oversleeping
- Hitting the “snooze” on your alarm over and over
- Falling asleep within a few minutes of getting into bed
If some of these look familiar, it’s probably time to focus on your “sleep hygiene.”
One way to know for sure how you are sleeping is to use a sleep diary. This tracks when you go to bed, when you wake up, and the quality of your sleep in between. You also evaluate how you felt during the following day, to see the relationship between your sleep and your alertness, activity, and mood. Try an app to download to your phone; some will monitor your movements at night, so you can tell how restless you are. Or print out a PDF from the National Sleep Foundation to keep next to the bed. It only takes a few minutes a day.
How can I get better sleep?
Once you’ve evaluated how much sleep you are—or aren’t—getting, start targeting your lifestyle and surroundings to support you. Here are some places to start:
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Both of these interfere with our bodies’ natural ability to drift off to sleep.
- Take a break from screens. Especially in the hours before bedtime, put away your phone (try charging it in another room) as well as any tablets or laptops. Even the light from a TV can interfere with your body’s natural patterns of sleep. Reading a book is a good option, or try listening to some calming music.
- Get some exercise during the day. This exertion can help your sleep to be more restful. Just don’t work out strenuously in the hours right before bedtime, which can make it hard to settle down. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get a total of 150 minutes each week, which you can divide up any way you like.
- Make your bed an oasis. Is your mattress firm enough for you? Are your sheets clean and soft? All of these factors will make your bed a more inviting place to be. Even making your bed in the morning can help you see it as an inviting place to end your day.
- Keep it cool and dark in the bedroom. A stuffy room is not good for sleep, so make sure the temperature is comfortably cool. Close curtains to block out any lights from the street and keep out morning light before you’re ready to be awake.
- Develop a soothing bedtime routine. Some people find a hot shower or bath relaxes them and gets them into a calm space where they can fall asleep more easily. Others drink a cup of herbal tea. You might try some gentle yoga poses. Meditation is something to consider, if you have trouble quieting your thoughts when you get into bed.
Once you’ve put some of these suggestions into place, you’re likely to find you are sleeping longer and getting better quality sleep. If not, consider seeing a sleep specialist and getting a formal evaluation, in case you have a more serious condition such as sleep apnea. But even that condition is treatable—with the right support.
Most of us can benefit from making sleep a bigger priority—so start now, during Sleep Awareness Week! If you make a commitment, you could be more rested within a matter of days. Everyone deserves a good night’s sleep. It’s part of what makes it possible for us to accomplish everything we do over the course of a day.
This article is part of the weekly blog of the Salter School. We care about the health and wellness of all our students. Learn more about the professional training programs we offer at our Malden campus in Massachusetts, including Professional Medical Assistant, Health Claims Specialist, and Massage Therapy. Reach out to us today at (781)-324-5454 for more information or to schedule a campus tour.