One of the most overlooked aspects of our health is the quality and quantity of sleep we get each night. Imagine waking up refreshed after a night of regenerative sleep instead of being awakened by the harsh buzzing of your alarm clock or the shock of your kids jumping on the bed. Sound like a dream or a wish that’s waiting for you to find a genie in a bottle to get? It shouldn’t be something that you just long for. A good nights rest should be a part of your routine.
According to a Gallup poll, 40% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night. Even more of us may be getting enough sleep in quantity, but not getting the quality of sleep we desire.
Sleep is a Necessity; Not a Luxury
The quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality, and even your weight. No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort!
Sleep isn’t merely a time when your body shuts down. While you sleep, your brain stays busy, overseeing a wide variety of maintenance tasks that keeps your body running as nature intended, preparing you for the day ahead. Without enough hours of therapeutic sleep, you won’t be able to work, learn, create, and communicate at a level even close to your true potential. Just like changing the oil in your car, when you skip getting enough sleep you are just heading for a breakdown.
Thankfully you don’t have to choose between health and productivity. Once you start getting the sleep you need, your energy and efficiency will go up. In fact, you’re likely to find that you actually get more done during the day than when you were trading sleep for more time!
You CAN Catch Up on Sleep
No matter how well you plan, you are just going to have those days when you wake up and feel like the walking dead. There are many (cruel) experts who say that there is no way to “catch up” on healthy sleep needs. In truth, new research has been leading us to believe that extra rest after a period of deprivation can improve your health. Lack of sleep can affect your body’s sensitivity to insulin and can improve the chances of developing diabetes. However, when people sleep in on the weekend in an attempt to repay the sleep debt, their levels of insulin sensitivity can return to normal levels. Don’t make it a habit, but it can be something for those who only sporadically have a period of insomnia.
“Power Naps” ARE Worth It
Even the slightest bit of shut eye during the day can help you to improve performance, alertness, and attention. Be careful, though, as those with insomnia may go beyond “nap” status when they shut their eyes. For those who do not have trouble falling asleep at night, naps can be a restorative habit during the day. For those who toss and turn for hours at bedtime, save the sleep for when you need it at night instead. Even for those who do choose to nap, a good rule of thumb is to make sure that you nap at least 6 hours before time for lights out. Napping too close to your bedtime can impede your ability to fall and stay asleep overnight.
Sleeping Pills Are NOT The Answer
I’ve seen so many people who are reaching for the melatonin (and other sleep aids) at night to assist in their quest for a good night’s rest. Chronic insomnia is not something that an over the counter medicine can truly fix in the long term. If you are having trouble sleeping on a pretty regular basis, calling your doctor may be the only way to solve your sleeping problems for the long haul. Your doctor may prescribe other methods of treatment, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, relaxation techniques or other methods. The trouble with pills are side effects, and even if you do not experience any of those, the chances of your insomnia returning as soon as you stop taking the medicine are very high. (You don’t want to be dependent upon ANY drug.)
Having Trouble Drifting Off? Do NOT Get Out of Bed
We have all had those nights where we just lay there in the dark staring at the ceiling, stressing ourselves out that if we don’t get to sleep soon tomorrow is going to be a disaster. Don’t stress out about it. And definitely don’t get out of bed. Even just relaxing in bed can help recharge your body in that it is similar to sleeping, as long as you are relaxing, not staring at the clock plotting out how many hours of sleep you are going to get if you fall asleep right this second. Remain calm and know that just resting is still helping you for tomorrow and the chances of drifting off improve tremendously.
You Cannot “Train” Yourself to Need Less Sleep
Ok, we are technically animals, but training your body to not need a basic biological function is just a little over the top. Can you train your lungs to need less oxygen so that you don’t have to breathe so much? No matter how well you think you function when you are chronically depriving yourself of sleep, your brain is just tricking you into believing that you are functioning at peak capacity, while in truth, your cognitive abilities are depressed. Just accept that most adults need between 7-8 hours of sleep each night to perform at their best and to avoid the health issues that can arise from not getting enough rest (diabetes and obesity).
Get Out of the “Snooze” Habit
Some days I know hitting the snooze button can feel like heaven. Getting just 20 minutes more sleep can feel like it’s going to make your day just 20x better. But it doesn’t work that way. Once your alarm has jolted you awake, you are no longer in REM, or the deep curative sleep that your body really needs. The extra few minutes is fragmented sleep, that really isn’t doing anything for your body’s needs or health. Even with those extra few minutes, you probably still feel groggy anyhow. So when the alarm goes off, get out of bed and maybe wash your face with some cool water in order to get your day started.
Women CAN Develop Sleep Apnea Too
Approximately 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. It really is more prevalent in men, but that doesn’t give us women a free pass from suffering from it. Once we age into menopausal stages, women’s rates of sleep apnea catch up to our male counterparts. We just choose to be in denial. Who wants to hear that we snore?? How unladylike!! But in truth, accepting that you may be suffering from this and chatting to your doctor about it can help with other aspects of your life. Face it, when menopause hits we have enough to worry about- don’t add sleep issues to that list!
Other Things to Ponder
Don’t ever stay up late for something that you wouldn’t get up early for. Is there some great event on television that you just have to see? Contemplate whether you would DVR it and set the alarm a bit early and watch it before your day starts. If you aren’t willing to do that, then don’t stay up. It’s just not worth it. (By the way, I do DVR and watch both Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead the day after they air. I love both shows, but not enough to lose any sleep over.)
Consistently waking up before your alarm goes off? Don’t toss and turn and attempt to go back to sleep if this has become a habit. Waking from a bad or strange dream occasionally is one thing. When you are waking up at 2am almost nightly, just decide to rise early and then maybe you will finally be tired enough the next night to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Thinking of everything you need to do tomorrow instead of falling asleep? We have all been there. As soon as you settle in and find a comfortable position in bed you start realizing all the things that you need to do and do not want to forget about for tomorrow. Keep a notepad next to your bed if this is a habit and write it down. Just the act of creating a reminder for yourself can alleviate the stress of thinking you may forget and help you to relax enough to sleep.