We all know that children need at least eight hours of sleep per night. What we tend to forget is that as adults we still need an average of eight hours of sleep per night as well. Some people need more, some people need less, but the common denominator is that most of us are not getting enough. Our days fill up with work and personal demands, and the only way many of us see to stay on top of things is to cut back on sleep. Unfortunately, the extra time we gain when we reduce our sleep ultimately affects the quality of our daily lives.
Losing sleep every now and then may not be great, but it won’t kill us. However, when we are chronically sleep-deprived, just about every aspect of our lives suffers. Physical activity is more difficult. Decisions become harder to make. Concentration falters. The quality of our work drops. Relationships become more complicated. We are more irritable and less patient. Put all of these results of sleep deprivation together and fighting off the effects of stress due to an overcrowded calendar becomes almost impossible. Several studies also link chronic sleep loss with serious health issues. Heart disease, obesity, Type II diabetes, mood disorders, and impaired judgement can result from chronic sleep deprivation.
Making sure we get enough quality sleep is one the key ways to maintain health and well-being. However, even when we recognize the need for sleep it can be hard to get the amount we need each night. Insomnia, sleep apnea, or stressing on a single issue are just a few of the reasons we can watch the clock display change throughout the night. Here are a few ways to ensure that you receive enough sleep to function at your personal best each day.
Recognize that sleep is just as important as your to-do list. Without sleep, it is harder to attack that list and cross off all those items. The body needs sleep to repair the damage from the day just as the brain needs sleep to regroup and prepare for tomorrow. Set a regular schedule for going to bed and waking up. The body becomes used to a routine so it will be easier to fall asleep if you hit the sack at the same time each night. Here is the hard part for me–getting up at the same time each day. I always used to love sleeping in on the weekend. I could justify it by saying I was catching up on the lost sleep from the week. However, mixing up patterns makes it more difficult for the body to relax and rejuvenate during sleep. By the time Sunday night roles around, it is much harder to fall asleep at the normal time and get enough sleep to face Monday refreshed.
Give yourself a device-free wind down period. Many of us are tied to our smartphone, laptop, or tablet. We compulsively check our email even while trying to relax in the evening. The problem, aside from the mental stimulation or agitation we receive from email, is light. Our brains treat light as a sign that it is time to wake up. When you are surfing the web to relax before bed, you are actually sending a signal to your brain that it is time to wake up and face the day. Try the opposite for a while. Let your brain get used to the idea that sleep is coming by unplugging about an hour before bed. Don’t stress that you may be missing something. All those emails will still be there in the morning, and smartphones even have a “Do Not Disturb” option now. Your phone can hold your calls unless it is an emergency. Sometimes technology actually is a good thing.
If you are trying to fit exercise into your schedule, try to finish at least three hours prior to going to sleep. Working out to close to bedtime can make it more difficult for the body to fall into a restful sleep pattern.
There is a reason we create bedtime routines for our children. Nightly rituals signal the brain that sleep is imminent. A bath or a cup of tea is a great way to settle into a regular sleeping pattern. Some people find that ten or twenty minutes of meditation helps to calm the mind and prepare for sleep. Whatever you chose, try to be consistent in the time and activity. We are creatures of habit and while that may not always be a good thing, this is one instance where it comes in very handy.
Sometimes no matter what we do, we just can’t fall asleep. When that happens, or you wake up in the middle of night and stare at the clock, don’t just lie there. If you are awake for more than twenty minutes, get up and move to another room. Just changing venues can sometimes break the wakeful pattern. If you are fixating on a problem or issue, write it down. Use a journal to clear your mind of things that are troubling you so you can set them aside for the night. Of course, if insomnia is a consistent problem, you should check with a physician to rule out any possible medical conditions.
Establishing healthy sleep patterns may not be easy, but it is imperative to our well-being. Without enough we sleep we simply cannot function at our best. Adequate sleep improves our physical and emotional health and allows us to better deal with daily stressors. It is actually one of the simplest yet most effective tools to manage stress and deal with overflowing agendas.