National Health 101 Examiner previously suggested that the world’s easiest, low-cost health and beauty tip is drinking sufficient amounts of clean water. It is perhaps just as important, albeit more difficult, to get sufficient amounts of sleep each night. Some of the most notable benefits of adequate sleep include:
- Increased energy
- Improved mental clarity (focusing ability, memory, performance, critical problem solving, alertness)
- Higher productivity
- Improved ability to exhibit patience (a must for busy moms)
- More pleasant temperament with fewer mood swings
- Improved physical strength
- Better hand-eye coordination
- Minimized stress
- Reduced risk of heart attack (up to 37%)
- Reduced risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Stronger immune system
- Reduced incidence of irregular heat beat
- Reduced tendency to overeat
- More youthful appearance
- Higher production of human growth hormone which contributes to muscle maintenance and lower body fat
Over the past few decades, Americans have reduced nightly sleep by one to hours. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 35 percent of adults do not get adequate sleep each night. Women are more prone to sleep deprivation than men. While the amount of sleep required varies by person, most of these health benefits can usually be achieved by getting at least seven hours of quality sleep each night (“5 Reasons to Sleep Your Way to Better Health” by Suzy Buglewicz).
During wake times, the body wears itself down. During sleep, the brain rebuilds the body through a five step process. Stage one sleep is the stage in which many college students find themselves during Chemistry 101 and other boring classes. During this stage, the eyes still move a little and the body can be awakened easily but usually with a startling jump. Eye movement stops and brain activity slows down during stage two sleep. Deep sleep begins at stage three and by stage four, all muscle movements have stopped. Rapid eye movement (REM) occurs during stage five. Stage five also marks an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and crazy dreams. All five stages are completed every 90 to 120 minutes.
To enjoy optimum health, Americans must make sleep a priority. The increased energy, mental clarity, and productivity that a good night of sleep provides can easily offset those late night hours spent getting work done or trying to catch up on chores. Once someone has resolved to get more sleep, actually falling asleep may continue to be difficult in a society that over stimulates and over stresses the mind and body.
Ten practical suggestions for improving sleep quality and quantity are listed below.
1. Designate the bed as a place for nothing other than sleeping and intimacy with one’s spouse. Keep televisions and computer screens out of the bedroom. Avoid discussing emotional issues in bed. Sleep comes more easily when the bed is primarily associated with sleep and does not conjure up other emotions.
2. Avoid eating or drinking after 8 p.m. to prevent acid reflux, heartburn and multiple trips to the restroom during the course of the night. Do not gorge during the evening meal.
3. While drinking should be reduced closer to bedtime, be sure to stay well hydrated throughout the day. Water is needed to regulate body temperature during each sleep stage.
4. Avoid spicy foods, caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate), and alcohol close to bedtime.
5. Replace processed foods with whole foods throughout the day and include plenty of fresh produce. A healthy overall diet benefits sleep patterns. Consider supplementing with calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C at night with a doctor’s approval.
6. Reduce noise and light in the bedroom. Use earplugs and window coverings as needed. Use a night light or flashlight for trips to the rest room at night to avoid exposure to bright lights which disrupt sleep cycles.
7. Avoid temperature extremes. The body sleeps best when the room temperature is between 54 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Use fans or electric blankets as needed to keep the temperature comfortable.
8. Avoid nicotine. Besides being a leading cause of cancer, smoking stimulates the body and prevents restful sleep.
9. Establish a consistent relaxing bedtime routine. Avoid bright screens and exciting books. Sip Sleepytime tea or other relaxing herbal teas. Try a soothing bath.
10. Exercise regularly. Exercise wears the body out and makes sleep come easily. Those who have trouble winding down after an endorphin producing workout should complete strenuous activities several hours before bedtime. For most, however, light to moderate aerobic or stretching activities just before bedtime will support deep and prolonged sleep.
“A Nap Can Make You Smarter” by Sylvia Booth Hubbard
“5 Reasons to Sleep Your Way to Better Health” by Suzy Buglewicz
“10 Tips for Restful Sleep” by Steve Edwards
“7 Myths about Sleep” by Joe Wilkes