Priscilla Gilbert, BA
Clinical Health Coach Training Coordinator
As most “fall back” from Daylight Savings to Standard time, we may find ourselves curling up in our beds and savoring the extra hour of sleep. That extra hour of sleep could improve many areas of our lives. As sleep research and studies become more prevalent, lack of sleep has more of an impact than just a difficult next day. Many aspects of our health and quality of life are impacted by our sleep and are impaired when we are sleep deprived.
Most likely, many have compromised our sleeping hours for responsibilities that seem to be more important than sleep. Research tells us vital tasks are taking place during our sleeping hours that are helping people stay healthy and function at higher levels. One of these “sleeping tasks” is our brain forming the pathways necessary for learning, creating memories and insights. Additional findings of a recent sleep study conducted by The National Sleep Foundation on 40, 000 adults around the world included:
- For all ages, those sleeping 7-8 hours a night exhibited the best brain performance.
- Half of the study participants reported sleeping less than 6.3 hours a night.
- Those who slept 4 or less hours a night performed as if they were 9 years older.
- Those sleeping more than 8 hours a night were just as cognitively impaired as those sleeping less.
- Of the various cognitive skills adversely impacted by too much or too little sleep, reasoning and verbal abilities were the most affected.
A good night of sleep not only forms new brain pathways, but also facilitates those pathways functioning well. Thus, enabling faster thinking processes, paying attention and focusing, making better decisions and taking less risks. And we are less irritable. However, sleep affects more than our brains.
Chronic lack of sleep also increases health risks and benefits. Sleep provides much needed rest for our heart and vascular system. Our breathing rates and blood pressure fluctuate throughout our sleep cycles and these changes promote cardiovascular health. Diabetes and obesity seem to be related, at least in part, to short sleep cycles as well as other sleeping issues. Evidence continues to grow for the promotion of adequate sleep for regulating appetite, energy use and weight control due to sleep increasing appetite suppressor, leptin and decreasing appetite stimulator ghrelin. Inadequate sleep and sleep patterns interfere with the pattern of rising and falling blood sugar levels thus increasing diabetes risk. Lack of sleep also puts one at greater risk of developing depression as well and decreases the production of cellular hormones, cytokines, that help the immune system fight off infections. Sleep stimulates more release of growth hormones, which impacts children’s growth as well as muscle mass and cell and tissue repair in both children and adults. Sleep impacts the release of sex hormones and contributes to puberty and fertility.
Chronic sleep loss or sleep disorders are impacting millions of Americans and resulting in billions of health care expenses and lost productivity. Our nation continues to be faced with rising chronic diseases and mental health issues. These issues cross the generational lines and are continuing to increase with time. Sleep needs change throughout the life cycle. Age as well as other factors can affect the number of hours of sleep you need.
Mayo Clinic provides these general guidelines for different age groups.
|Recommended Amount of Sleep
|14- 17 hours a day
|About 10 at night, plus 4 hours of naps
|About 11-12 hours at night, plus a 1-2 hour afternoon nap
|10 -13 hours
|6 – 13 years
|14 – 17 years
Recognizing that you cannot control all that happens in your life – illness, unexpected challenges, family responsibilities to name a few – you can adopt habits that encourage better sleep. Below are some combined tips for better sleep from Mayo Clinic and The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
- Set aside no more than 8 hours for sleep.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekend to no more than one hour.
- If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave the bedroom and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when tired. Repeat as needed.
- Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. Avoid heavy meals within a couple of hours of bedtime.
- Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution. Stimulation of nicotine and caffeine take hours to wear off and interfere with the sleep quality. Alcohol disrupts sleep patterns.
- Create a bedroom sanctuary – cool, dark and quiet. Avoid prolonged use of light emitting screens before bedtime. (Night shift workers need to get rid of daytime light and noises for daytime sleep. Consider room darkening shades, earplugs eyeshades, “white noise” machines and fans.)
- Limit daytime naps up to 30 minutes and preferably by mid-afternoon. (Night shift workers might need to nap late in the day to make up sleep debt.)
- Regular physical activity promotes better sleep. Better if exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Spending time outside everyday (30 minutes) might be helpful.
- We all have occasional sleepless nights. If you have continued sleep issues, consult a doctor.
We are all influenced by increased exposure to electronic media and the nonstop nature of our environment. However, take note of the increased evidence and support of adequate sleep for the promotion of our health and wellbeing for our entire family. Sleep is as vital to good healthy living as nutrition and physical activity. Perhaps it is time to make sleep a non-negotiable part of your day.