Over the last half a century, we have shaved off an average of two (precious) hours of sleep a night. According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 60 percent of adults say they get less than seven hours of sleep on a weeknight, compared with the seven to nine hours that are recommended.
We burn the midnight oil, we get up way before the kids just to get things done. Our days are go, go, go! And it’s often hard to stay asleep once we get there. Why make sleep a priority when there's so much else to do?
For everyone who swears they get by on five or six hours a night, here are some annoying facts:
• Bodies deprived of sleep produce less leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone; this increases our craving for sweets and salty carbohydrates.
• Shortened sleep produces metabolic changes. These may lead to diabetes or may alter the nervous system in a way that could contribute to high blood pressure and heart-rhythm irregularities.
• Insomnia substantially increases the risk of developing depression.
Here are some tips to help you get healthful, renewing sleep more often.
DO structure your sleep. Try to go to bed and arise at the same times every day. Irregular hours can throw off the internal biological clock.
DO create a soothing bedtime routine. Watching the news or reading the latest page-turner are not good sleep inducers. Meditation or soothing music helps to end the day.
DO lower the lights throughout the house. It tells the brain it's time to produce melatonin to make you drowsy. Use nightlights in the halls and bathrooms for nighttime awakenings.
DON’T work, eat or watch TV in bed. Keep your bedroom for sleep. DO keep it quiet, dark and cool, and your feet warm. However, within five minutes of waking, expose yourself to bright light.
DON’T exercise or eat heavily within several hours of bedtime. Both energize the body. However, DO exercise in the late afternoon or early evening. This reduces tension and makes falling asleep easier.
DO avoid stimulants and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine, nicotine, sugary snacks can cause wakefulness, and alcohol robs you of the deep, dreaming sleep you need.
DO head off potential anxieties at the bedroom door. Early in the evening make lists of chores or tasks for the next day, and/or gather things you will need. (It’s like laying out your school clothes and packing your homework!)
DON’T be a clock-watcher if you wake up in the night. Figuring how much sleep you’re missing intensifies the wee-hours stress of insomnia. Cover your clock, if you need to. If you have trouble falling back to sleep, be kind to yourself. Write any worries down and let them take care of themselves for the night.
When you make good sleep a priority, you improve your brain's ability to make a happier, smarter, more agile you.
Marilyn Miller, MS, LPC ~ Psychotherapist
...Delighting every day in helping people find peace in their lives, relieving anxiety, depression, and promoting self-care.