In a few days, our clocks are going to change, and although most of us are going to “gain an hour” of sleep, there is still going to be some disruption to our sleep routines when we set our phones, clocks, and other devices back one hour.
This seems to be a good time to explore sleep in general, and just how vitally important good quality sleep is for our physical and emotional well-being. If you suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders, like the young woman above, this article may help you identify some signs and symptoms associated with poor sleep, and also provide you with some practical tips to help improve your sleep patterns. People who sleep well, tend to be happier so let’s look at this in more detail.
Why sleep is so important
Sleep is as important as eating, drinking and breathing. And yet, we don’t give it nearly the attention it deserves. While we do spend approximately a third of our lives asleep, most Americans are sleep deprived, as much as a third according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes adults, teens, and children.
In the same way that we work on eating better and exercising regularly for overall health, sleep is also a key component that is so easily overlooked. All too often we power through, let anxiety and worry keep us awake, we self-medicate and believe that we can catch up on sleep later (which in fact, is a myth).
Quality sleep allows our bodies to rejuvenate, heal, process the day’s events, and consolidate information. It helps your brain and body to function properly. It can improve your quality of life, relationships, mental health, physical health, improve learning and problem-solving capabilities. The picture is not so pretty if we have poor sleep patterns.
That is why one of the questions I ask my new clients during the first session is, “How are you sleeping?” We can learn a great deal from their responses.
How lack of sleep can impact our physical and emotional health
Poor sleep and sleep deficiency is linked to all kinds of mental and physical health concerns including:
- A weakened immune system that can result in more frequent colds and flu
- Anxiety, sadness, depression, risk-taking behaviors and even suicide
- Trouble making decisions
- Poor memory
- Difficulties with problem-solving
- Trouble learning
- Challenges with controlling emotions and behavior
- Challenges in coping with change
- Increased risk of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- GI problems
- Weight loss and weight gain
- Hormonal imbalances
- Diminished sex drive
- Drowsy driving that can lead to increased risked of car accidents
Children and Teens
Furthermore, children and teens who are lacking in sleep may have problems getting along with others. They may lack motivation, have mood swings, feel angry, impulsive, sad or depressed. When it comes to school, they may have problems paying attention, lower grades and feel anxiety and stress.
The younger you are the more sleep you need. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following for babies on up:
- Newborns (0-3 months) – 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months) – 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years) – 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years) – 10-13 hours
- School-aged children (ages 6-13) – 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17) – 8-10 hours
How much sleep do I need?
Generally speaking, adults need between 7 to 9 hours each night. There is no right amount for everyone. Some people need more sleep. Some people need less.
Our ability to sleep is controlled by how sleepy we feel and our sleep patterns. Do you find yourself yawning and groggy mid-day? The sleep pattern relates to the regularity and timing of our sleep habits; if we got into a pattern of sleeping at regular times each day (or night as it were) then we would be able to establish a better routine and will find it easier to sleep at that time every day.
Following a regular sleep pattern is important, but if you have challenges in this area here are a few tips that may support you getting more and better quality Zzzz’s.
Practical tips that can work to help you sleep better
Reduce stimulants that overstimulate your nervous system
The results from research on sleep are very clear: stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine are one of the most significant factors that contribute to sleeplessness.
Caffeine is a known stimulant, but so is nicotine, and can keep you up (for hours). If you’re having sleep issues it is best to refrain from consuming either, but if that’s not doable then make sure you refrain from partaking later in the day.
Not only is caffeine an issue before bed but watch your sugar intake too. Sugar is also a stimulant. You may want to pass on that dessert after dinner if you are sleep deprived. The last thing you want to do is elevate your blood sugar level and amp yourself up when you know you’re having a hard time sleeping.
Reduce your alcohol intake
While alcohol may depress the nervous system, it doesn’t last long and most people wake in the middle of the night, not able to get back to sleep. So if you’re having sleep issues, it’s best not to partake or at the very least reduce your amount of alcohol intake.
Exercise during the day can help greatly
Exercise during the day can make a tremendous difference in your sleep patterns. Not only does exercise improve sleep quality but it also increases sleep duration. Additionally, it reduces stress and may possibly tire you out so you’re more apt to want to go to sleep early, sleep harder and longer.
Manage your worries
Exercise certainly helps to manage anxiety and stress. But a big challenge to getting to sleep is managing your worries. Consider, yoga and meditation as a part of your mental health practice and if it’s unmanageable between the above-mentioned practices, then consider seeing a therapist, as there may be one or more significant stressors that are impacting the quality of your life.
Talking to others can help
I know for myself, that when I have been under unusually great amounts of stress, that the quality of my sleep tends to become a problem. I’ve also found that simply talking to friends, family members, or a colleague can often help turns things around just by unloading some of the tension and worry that often accompany the stresses that almost all of us feel during the course of our lives. Relieving some of our stress often helps our ability to enjoy the benefits of sleep.
Just like you brush your teeth every day and (most likely) put on deodorant, these are everyday steps for good hygiene. Good hygiene is daily practices that promote good health. Therefore, why not also have good sleep hygiene practices?
Create a sleep routine
If you’re a parent, you know how important a sleep routine is for your child. Apply the same philosophy to yourself. You are equally worth it – ESPECIALLY if you are having sleep issues. Be regular about what you do to prepare yourself for sleep, what time you go to bed and when you wake up. Your body actually craves routine!
Get mentally prepared
Plan for your 7-9 hours of sleep. You may even need to schedule it for yourself. Really think about it. Ask yourself, “What time do I need to wake up?” and plan backward from there. If you are having sleep or health issues, it’s important that you give sleep a higher priority until you can get your situation under control. You owe it to yourself. You know when you don’t get enough sleep, you’re not at your best – mentally, physically or emotionally. So schedule it out.
Also get your brain in the game. Have a healthy attitude and a positive mental outlook about sleep. Consider sleep an opportunity to play at the top of your game, make your health a priority or simply have a better day. But what you think about you bring about, so check your attitude about making sleep a part of your plan for healthier living.
Arianna Huffington in her book, the Sleep Revolution, recommends that you get into the habit of sleeping in pajamas. Nice ones, preferred. Slipping into pajamas, not workout clothes or the clothes you were in the whole day (or plan to be in tomorrow), signals the brain that you, your body and brain, are ready for bed.
Power Down Hour
An hour before you need to go to sleep, refrain from all electrical devices (computer, tablets, phones, television). Yeah, I know this is radical thinking in our modern, fast-paced world, but the benefits may just be exactly what you need.
You may be thinking, “Gee, then what am I to do?” (Look, I totally get it, but try it. You just may like it.) Go old school. Take a nice bath or a shower before going to bed. Read a book (like a real book, not a digital one). Write in a journal (daily gratitudes are a great idea!). Feelings of gratitude tend to be calming and reassuring.
Draw. Color. Meditate. Stretch. Drink tea (non-caffeinated, of course). Whatever makes you feel relaxed and happy (what a great thing to explore and discover for yourself — what does make you relaxed and happy?!?!). Do that. But keep it low key.
Set the scene
The Mayo Clinic says that changing your sleep environment may improve your sleep. Sound, light, and temperature are common complaints to that disrupt a good solid night.
Have your room as dark as possible. You may need to buy blackout curtains. You can find these at big box and online retailers. They are not that expensive and they don’t look awful. Earplugs may also be necessary if you find yourself constantly awakened by late-night noises.
Know when to ask for help
If you’ve tried all of the above and nothing seems to be working, it is time to consult with a healthcare professional.
IMPORTANT NOTE: In all cases when you are having difficulty sleeping, consult your physician in order to make sure that there are no underlying medical conditions that could be causing the problem.
I hope that you have found these sleep tips helpful. If you need additional help to unload your worries in order for you to rest better, I invite you to contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation. I am more than happy to help out in any way I can.