Getting enough quality sleep is an important part of good health, along with exercise, eating well, stress management and staying up to date with your current health status and preventive screenings. Perhaps you haven’t given much thought to how sleep affects your health. Maybe you’ve even been cutting back on sleep in order to accomplish everything you need and want to do. After all, sleep is simply unproductive “down time” when your brain shuts off and you get a little rest…or is it?
What is Sleep?
Sleep is an active and dynamic state during which many processes vital to health, performance and well-being take place. It includes alternating periods of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that cycle throughout the night. Feeling rejuvenated and refreshed after a good night’s sleep is one clear benefit. Here are other important reasons to sleep well:
- Memory is integrated and organized.
- Hormones that regulate growth, energy and metabolism are released.
- Body tissue, nerve cells and essential biochemicals are repaired and renewed.
- Your immune system is replenished and restored.
Getting better sleep isn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity!
Getting Enough Sleep
The amount and quality of your sleep affects how you feel and perform the next day and can greatly impact your general well-being. How much sleep is enough? Basically, it’s the amount that leaves you feeling well rested the next day. Sleep needs vary from person to person and change with age. Pay attention to how you feel with different amounts of sleep. The guidelines below are the recommended ranges for each age group, but slightly more or less may be appropriate for some individuals.
*Total time includes naps
Source: National Sleep Foundation
The Impact of Sleep Loss
Skimping on sleep can affect many areas of your life, including:
- Decline in alertness
- Slowed reaction time
- Lack of concentration, attention and focus
- Impaired decision-making and judgment
To get some additional insight on how sleep/recovery can affect your performance, be sure to check out Episode 030 of the Fit Men Movement podcast – Interview with Ian Dunican on Recovery & Performance Optimization
Here are some of the resources mentioned in the podcast:
- Increased moodiness and erratic behaviors
- Trouble with personal and social relationships
- Feel more stressed, anxious, sad and “out of sorts”
Research has shown that getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep on a consistent basis may increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and inflammation. There is even evidence suggesting that weight gain is associated with getting inadequate sleep, possibly by disrupting hormones that regulate appetite.
Drowsy driving is one impact of sleep loss that has become a serious public health concern. Fatigue is considered an impairment like alcohol and drugs that slows reaction time to potentially dangerous situations when you’re behind the wheel.
Warning signs include:
- Trouble focusing, keeping your eyes open, or your head up
- Yawning or rubbing your eyes repeatedly
- Inability to recall driving the last few miles
- Drifting from your lane and missing signs and exits
If you’re short on sleep, it’s best to stay out of the driver’s seat. When that’s not possible and you’re feeling drowsy, pull off the road to a safe place and take a short nap or have someone else drive. Above all, aim to be well rested before hitting the road.
What Causes You to Lose Sleep?
There are many reasons for sleep loss, including stress, partner snoring, late meals or a health problem. If you’re prone to lose sleep, write down what you think are the top three causes.
Sleep loss may be caused by undiagnosed sleep disorders. As many as 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep problems. Three common sleep disorders are briefly described here:
Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It also includes waking too early and not getting back to sleep, or waking unrefreshed and feeling lethargic throughout the day. Some insomnia is normal; it becomes chronic when symptoms persist at least three nights a week for longer than one month.
Sleep apnea is a disorder of interrupted breathing during sleep. This most common form is Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Those with sleep apnea are known to make gasping or “snorting” noises as breathing is being restored. People with sleep apnea tend to be sleep deprived. They may experience trouble concentrating, depression, irritability, memory problems, and falling asleep while at work, on the phone, or while driving. Untreated sleep apnea increases the risk of many of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurologic movement disorder with mild to severe sleep disturbances. Those with RLS experience unpleasant leg sensations (creeping, crawling, prickling or tingling) that create an irresistible urge to move or rub them for relief. Symptoms are usually worse late in the day and at night, especially when trying to fall asleep.
Sleep disorders are serious; however, they can be effectively treated when properly diagnosed.
When to Get Help for Troubled Sleep
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you:
- Take more than 30 minutes each night to fall asleep.
- Consistently awaken several times a night and have trouble falling back to sleep, or you awaken too early in the morning.
- Frequently don’t feel well rested despite getting 7–8 hours of sleep.
- Feel sleepy during the day, you take frequent naps or you fall asleep at inappropriate times. • Regularly need to use stimulants to stay awake during the day.
- Are told that you snore loudly, snort, gasp, make choking sounds, or stop breathing for short periods when asleep.
- Have unpleasant sensations in your legs (or arms) when inactive that are relieved by moving or rubbing them.
- Have episodes of sudden weakness during intense emotions, such as when laughing.
- Have vivid, dreamlike experiences while falling asleep or dozing.
- Feel as though you cannot move when you first wake up.
Sleepiness Scale: How Sleepy are You?
This brief questionnaire will help you measure your general level of daytime sleepiness. How likely are you to doze off or fall asleep (in contrast to just feeling tired) during the routine daytime situations listed below? Even if you haven’t done some of these activities recently, think about how they would affect you.
Use this scale to choose the most appropriate number for each situation:
- 0 = would never doze
- 1 = slight chance of dozing
- 2 = moderate chance of dozing
- 3 = high chance of dozing
Chance of Dozing
|Sitting and reading|
|Sitting inactive in a public place (e.g., a theater or meeting)|
|As a passenger in a car for an hour without a break|
|Lying down to rest in the afternoon when circumstances permit|
|Sitting and talking to someone|
|Sitting quietly after a lunch without alcohol|
|In a car, while stopped for a few minutes in trafic|
Once you have completed the questionnaire, simply add up the numbers you put in each box to get your total score.
- If your score is less than 10, you are experiencing an average amount of sleepiness.
- If your score is 10 or higher, please share these results with your doctor. Excessive daytime sleepiness could indicate an underlying sleep disorder
Source: Epworth Sleepiness Scale. Sleep, 1991
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
There are a number of things you can do to help yourself get a good night’s sleep.
Try as many of these tips as you can—it’s a great way to see what works best for you. Check off those you plan to try:
- Stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule―even on the weekends.
- Establish a regular and relaxing bedtime routine.
- Create a sleep-friendly environment―one that is dark, cool, comfortable and quiet.
- Avoid exposure to bright light before bedtime.
- Exercise regularly at any time of day that works for you, but not at the expense of your sleep.
- Soak in a hot bath before bed.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
- Finish eating a heavy meal at least 2–3 hours before bedtime; restrict fluids close to bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine at least 6–8 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime.
- Avoid naps late in the day and keep them to less than an hour.
- Consider sleeping solo.
- Don’t lie in bed awake for more than 20 minutes.
- Ensure some exposure to natural daylight and, if possible, wake up with the sun.
- Avoid activities before bedtime that may arouse or upset, such as working, arguing, sorting through bills, etc.
- Avoid medicines and herbal remedies that may disrupt sleep, if possible.
Note: These tips are intended for most adults, but not necessarily for children or persons experiencing medical problems.
Do you have specific sleep challenges that occur with shift work or frequent jet lag? Visit the National Sleep Foundation at www.sleep.org for strategies to help you manage these and other situations that can interfere with restful sleep.
When You Need Some Help Promoting Sleep
Common sleep problems can often be addressed without the use of medication. These may help provide some relief:
- Relaxation exercises (e.g., deep breathing, meditation or yoga)
- White noise device (e.g., nature sounds, fan)
- Calming music
- Comfortable bedding and sleepwear
- Ear plugs and sleep masks
- Herbal teas (e.g., chamomile)
- Aromatherapy (e.g., lavender)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy; seek help from a professional
Prescription or over-the-counter medication may be indicated for some sleep problems, but can carry the risk of side effects and is not recommended as a first resort, especially when nondrug sleep remedies can be just as effective. Medication should only be used in combination with good sleep practices and/or behavioral approaches.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that if you feel a sleep problem is serious enough to treat, then you should consult your physician first to make sure you understand the cause of your sleep problem and treat it appropriately.
Sound, restful sleep is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle; its importance can’t be overestimated. Use the information in this guide to equip yourself with the tools you need to help you sleep better, and discover how it really can lead to a better life.
Sources: National Sleep Foundation; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institutes of Health, Your Guide to Healthy Sleep, NIH Publication No. 11-5271
This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor for advice about changes that may affect your health.
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