sleep 101

Ah, sleep. The long luxurious kind that leaves us feeling totally rejuvenated. There’s a rash of recent surveys showing that Americans are sleeping less than the recommended 7-8 hours and it does take a toll. [I took this survey! I know!]

Part of the problem is we don’t give ourselves enough time to wind down before bedtime. We’re anxious about money, our jobs, chaos in our lives. And we’re technology-driven so many of us watch TV in the evening, use the computer,  iPods, or texting. The screens on these devices are bright and our body interprets them as sunshine which is ‘alerting’ and not calming.

One survey’s results:

60% get fewer than 7 hours of sleep
11% struggle every night to fall asleep
49% wake regularly mid-sleep and have trouble drifting off again. [hellooo!]

Research shows if we don’t get enough sleep we have increased risk of all sorts of disease. On the flip side, enough sleep helps to:

prevent cancer
prevent weight gain [that’s what I’m talkin’ about!]
fight off colds
improve memory
improve athletic performance

When we get less than 7 hours of sleep, of course, we are exhausted. Our reaction time is reduced and our immune system is compromised. And when we are sleep-deprived our body produces less of a hormone called leptin, which helps us to feel more satisfied after meals. If we’re not satisfied, we tend to eat more and we also tend to choose less healthy foods — those that are starchy, sweet, or salty.

When we get less than 6 hours of sleep our brain power takes a hit. Our memory, reaction time and general cognition are diminished. After two weeks of getting 6 hours or less a night, our brain function is the same as pulling two all-nighters in a row.

What to do?

Plan our sleep. Go to bed and wake up as close to the same time every night as we can manage. Turn off technology. Wind down an hour or two before bed. Read a book. Take a warm bath or shower. Avoid caffeine. [Caffeine stays in our system up to eight hours, so cut it off around noon.]

It’s the advice you would give your best friend. [I just gave this advice to daughter, Mikelle, but I’m not sure she listened.] Get some good sleep, take care of yourself, eat healthy, get some rest.

So do it for yourself.