Sleep. We all need it. Unless your life is so busy that you’ve been forced to deal with the reality that you don’t have the time for a healthy amount of sleep, you probably take sleep for granted. This is obvious in the fact that so many people don’t take the time to seek medical attention for their issues with sleep, whether they include difficulty falling asleep, middle of the night awakenings, or tendency to oversleep. Whatever the issue, sleeping too little or too much will negatively impact your quality of life.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is absolutely essential to a person’s well-being and health. Yet millions of Americans are suffering from sleep disorders, many of which are undiagnosed and untreated, a scary and sad reality.
Sleep deprivation can lead to a series of unpleasant symptoms and frightening consequences. Irritability, moodiness, increased appetite and disinhibition are some of the immediate and less severe effects of a poor sleep schedule. But longer term effects include increased risk for psychiatric disorders like depression and substance abuse, and increased risk for diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
So why then, are so many Americans going about their lives, ignoring the negative ramifications of their issues with sleep?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that we have grown accustomed to living with the milder side effects of sleep deprivation. Or, perhaps the answer lies in the fact that sleep needs vary a great deal among human populations, making determining one’s own sleep needs more challenging than imagined.
Some people are their most productive after only 6 hours of sleep, while others need 9 hours just to function normally. The most obvious way to determine your own sleep needs is to pay attention to your alertness after different quantities of sleep. You should also take into account the quality of the sleep you get. Do you have a difficult time falling or staying asleep? Do you find yourself waking up frequently during the night? These issues will also impact sleep’s ability to serve your daily functional needs. To be the healthiest you can, you need to sleep well. Your body will reward you for it.
It’s also important to take into consideration your consumption of caffeine. Do you depend on caffeine or other stimulants just to get through the day? If so, consider the possibility that your body requires more sleep.
If you think you’re not getting enough sleep, or you think you sleep too much, it’s important to seek professional help. Don’t ignore the mild effects of poor sleep quality on your mood and your appetite, because they will eventually result in more severe consequences that you won’t have the choice to ignore.
In the meantime, there are some things you can do on your own to improve your sleep schedule.
- First, you should begin by assessing your sleeping schedule. See how you respond to different amounts of sleep. You should also consider how often you feel that you received a good night’s sleep. If it seems pretty infrequent, this is a point of concern.
- Set a regular sleeping and waking schedule, even on the weekends. This may seem difficult at first, but if you want to prioritize your health, this is a necessary habit to create. Again, your body will reward you.
- Avoid watching TV, using a computer, or reading in bed. Habits like these will make sleeping in bed a less likely reaction, making falling asleep or staying asleep more difficult. Save these pastimes for the couch or a different room.
- Exercise regularly. This one seems obvious, but exercise will help you feel tired and it will regulate your sleep schedule.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or food for 2-3 hours before bed.
- Set your mood for sleeping with regular habits, such as taking a shower or bath before bed, or listening to soothing music. You should allow yourself an hour or more to do these things and give yourself ample time to fall asleep.
If you find that you have more obvious issues with sleep, such as extreme drowsiness during the day, falling asleep without warning during productive hours of the day, difficulty breathing at night, snoring, or prolonged insomnia, consult a sleep specialist for advice. Sleeping well should be a priority in your life, just like healthy eating and exercising regularly.
Stay fit, Santa Barbara, and make sure you get some sleep!
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