|What is so important that God designed us to do it for a third of our lives? More that the forty hour work week? Something that everyone must do whether they like it or not? The answer, of course, is sleep. Sleep plays a vital and important role in our physical, mental and emotional health and well-being. When I don’t get enough of it, I am less patient, less attentive, achy and sluggish. In a word, I feel yucky!
Studies show that a good night’s sleep improves learning, problem-solving skills, and ability to pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain resulting in trouble making decisions and solving problems, controlling emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, anxiety, suicide, risk-taking behavior, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep is involved in healing and repairing of the brain, heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones for hunger (ghrelin) and feeling full (leptin) in addition to helping control the body’s response to insulin. Too little sleep causes the level of ghrelin to go up, the level of leptin to go down, and the body to be less responsive to insulin. Those who are sleep deficient feel hungrier, tend to overeat and gain weight, and have an increased risk of glucose intolerance and diabetes.
The immune system relies on sleep to function well. Ongoing sleep deficiency leads to a decreased ability to fight common infections.
People who are sleep deficient are less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. These issues not only affect their lives but also affect the lives of the people around them.
Everyone’s individual sleep needs vary. In general, most healthy adults are built for 16 hours of wakefulness and need an average of eight hours of sleep a night. However, some individuals are able to function without sleepiness or drowsiness after as little as six hours of sleep. Others can’t perform at their peak unless they’ve slept ten hours. Contrary to common myth, the need for sleep doesn’t decline with age but the ability to sleep for six to eight hours at one time may be reduced. Van Dongen & Dinges, Principles & Practice of Sleep Medicine, 2000
Yet an estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults report less than seven hours of sleep during a typical 24 hour period. Another article I read stated that in the 21st century, 80 percent of the working U.S. population have become sleep-deprived! I would guess that a majority of you reading this have experienced sleep deficiency and its effects at some point in your lives or perhaps suffer from it chronically.
What can you do to help yourself get better sleep, both in quantity and quality? The following is a list of “good sleep hygiene” practices that I share regularly with my patients:
1. Establish a regular bedtime and regular wake up time that you stick to throughout the week as much as possible including the weekend.
2. Create a bedtime ritual. Relaxing rituals prior to bedtime may include a warm bath or shower, light reading or listening to soothing music. A glass of warm milk may also be of help. It is NOT a good idea to watch TV within an hour before bedtime, as some research findings reveal that the blue rays emitted by the screen stimulate the brain to stay awake. This is also true for being on the computer and using your cell phone.
3. Make your sleeping environment better: a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool bedroom will help you to sleep. A white noise machine is ok to use if you want. Use a comfortable mattress and pillows.
4. Do not use your bedroom as a work station: the bedroom should be an exclusive place for sleep (and sex). Keep all your work materials, reading material, computers, and TV in a different room.
5. Finish eating at least 2-3 hours prior to your bedtime.
6. Avoid caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime; avoid alcohol and smoking within 2 hours of bedtime. Nicotine is a stimulant, and alcohol though it has sedative properties, actually disrupts sleep patterns.
7. Get regular exercise, at least 4 times a week. A fast-paced walk is good exercise. Finish your exercise at least a couple hours before bedtime so that your body won’t be stimulated and energetic at bedtime.
8. Try to avoid naps during the daytime. A “power nap” if needed should not be longer than 20 minutes. Longer naps will disturb your sleep clock.
9. If you are not able to sleep after 10-15 minutes, try going to another room and do some light reading or listen to soothing music until you feel sleepy.
10. Unloading anxieties will help you to sleep. Designate time to write down problems and possible solutions in the late afternoon or early evening, not close to bedtime. Prayer is a great way to unload your anxieties.
Cast all your concerns and cares on Christ, because He cares for you First Peter 5:8
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7