Do you get enough sleep? Is it restless or restful? Continuous or interrupted? Do you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or wake up feeling tired? The latest research shows that there is a stronger connection than previously thought between quality and amount of sleep and a person’s health. However, many adults report having trouble sleeping at least once a week, and 10% of the US population suffers from insomnia most every night.
Sleeping well—that is, getting eight hours of deep, continuous sleep most nights—has been shown to protect people from developing a number of chronic diseases and conditions, such as high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, arthritis, obesity, heartburn, depression, anxiety, and diabetes. Statistics also show that inadequate sleep can be blamed for many motor vehicle and machinery-related accidents. Driving while “under the influence” of too little sleep can be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Conditions unique to sleep itself form another list of complaints that include circadian rhythm disorders, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea.
Even if you consider yourself the picture of health, a short supply of sleep can subtly affect how you feel all day. It can mean you aren’t performing your best at work or in other daily activities, due to irritability, lack of motivation or difficulty concentrating. And when your obligations for the day are over, insufficient sleep can even affect how you enjoy your leisure hours. Our brains simply can’t function optimally without an adequate amount of sleep.
People who turn in early, saying they need to “recharge their batteries,” are not far off the mark.
In fact, our brains need time to process our day’s events. If you don’t find ways for your stressed brain to do this during your waking hours, it will do it while you’re trying to fall asleep or while you are actually sleeping, which will interfere with sleep quality, allowing more stress to affect you the following day and continuing the vicious cycle.
Finding ways to deal with worries and anxieties several hours before you head for bed will help your body and your brain sleep more soundly. Some coping strategies include exercise, reviewing the day with an understanding friend or spouse, or yoga and meditation. If you have children, realize that they have their own daily stresses, however small they may seem to adults. Don’t rely on video games or movies to help them fall asleep. Instead, discuss their day with them and try reading a low-conflict bedtime story together. Children who sleep well and long perform better academically and get sick less often than those who don’t.
Deep, restful sleep is as necessary for good health as proper diet and exercise. If you make improved sleep a priority, you are bound to feel your best right away, and you’ll be building your immune system so you can enjoy a long and healthy life.