National Sleep Awareness Week ends this Sunday when, guess what, the clocks move forward and you lose another hour of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation found that more than 75 percent of American adults are experiencing sleeping problems in one form or another. There are over 90 official sleep disorders that have been identified, with insomnia leading the list, followed by sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.
Sleep is a necessity. It is an investment in our overall health and wellbeing. When we have the proper amount of sleep, a recommended seven to eight hours a night, we wake up feeling refreshed, alert and ready to take on the daily challenges. It is not just the quantity of sleep that one gets through the night, but the quality of the sleep that will determine how rested you are in the morning. Sleep allows your body to actively recharge itself. Just as you would give your computer a chance to hibernate, you need to give your brain, the master computer, a chance to rest.
Unfortunately, as we become more stressed, we are getting less sleep, which results in poor performance at work, risk for injury, poor health and difficulty in getting along with others.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in motor vehicle accidents, increase in obesity, increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, increased risk for psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse, and an inability to concentrate and learn new information.
Sleep is regulated by a two-brain process. The first is the restorative phase, where sleep occurs in response to how long we are awake. The longer we are awake, the stronger the drive to sleep. The second process is the circadian biological clock in our brain that regulates timing. This is influenced by light, which is why we have the urge to sleep when it is dark and stay awake when it is light. This brain clock runs on a 24-hour cycle, resulting in our feeling sleepy between 2 and 4 a.m. and again in the afternoon between 1 and 3 p.m.
Those most at risk for sleep disorders are students, night-shift workers, travelers and persons suffering from acute stress, depression or chronic pain. People who work several jobs can also experience sleep disorders.
So how can you tell if you are sleep deprived? It’s likely you are not getting enough sleep if any one of several factors are true:
• lack energy during the day
• difficulty concentrating
• lack of motivation
• are irritable and quick to anger
• need an alarm clock to wake up
• doze off while driving a car
The reason most people are sleep deprived is because they are not practicing good sleep hygiene. You should:
• avoid drinking caffeine in the afternoon, which is a potent sleep disruptor
• avoid alcohol a minimum of six hours before you go to bed. (Alcohol has a rebound effect where you feel sleepy initially, but then will have a disrupted sleep through the night.)
• eat a heavy meal at lunch and a light meal at dinner • finish working out at least six hours before you are ready to sleep
• make your bedroom quiet, dark and slightly cool to optimize sleep
• begin a ritual to help you relax before bed each night
• don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy.
If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, then get out of bed and go back when you are sleepy.
• keep a regular schedule and get up at the same time each morning
Use your bedroom for sleep and avoid watching TV, working on a computer, eating and paying bills there.
Get a good mattress and pillows, and if you have a bed partner, makes sure that person doesn’t disrupt your sleep. That includes your pets.