You snooze, you win
We all know the amount of sleep required by the average person is “five minutes more.” Maybe that is the reason that an estimated 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleeping disorder. It is a common aspect of life that is easy to neglect, with electronic screens to look at, thoughts to occupy our minds, and content to keep our interest.
Sleep is vital because the body needs this time to repair muscles, consolidate memories, and release hormones that maintain growth and digestion. Quality sleep also helps control appetite and support immunity.
The risks of sleep deficiency is commonly linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. People experiencing sleep deficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.
Researched recommendations came out earlier this year by the National Sleep Foundation. This is the first time that any professional organization has developed age-specific recommended sleep durations based on a rigorous, systematic review of the world scientific literature relating sleep to health, performance and safety.
A summary of the new recommendations includes:
Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
These are probably numbers in the ball park you were guessing, but are you hitting your recommended numbers each night? Yes, late night television and a chance to check social media via tablet, smartphone or computer is fun, but it can have a huge impact on your sleep quality.
There is robust scientific data documenting the role of light in promoting wakefulness. Photoreceptors in the retina sense light and dark which help us to be alert in the morning and be able to fall asleep at the appropriate time at night. The power of light as an alerting agent is easily conceptualized when we think of the sun, and unfortunately our small electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain to keep us awake.
Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston conducted a study looking at the impact of electronic devices on sleep patterns. One notable discovery is that participants who read from e-readers (Kindles, iPads, etc.) did not get the same late evening rise in melatonin that would induce sleep. This is disconcerting because chronic suppression of melatonin secretion has also been linked to a number of health concerns, including increased risk of reproductive cancers. Melatonin has a calming effect on several reproductive hormones, which may explain why it seems to protect against sex hormone-driven cancers, including ovarian, endometrial, breast, prostate and testicular cancers.
There are so many ways to improve your sleep quality. For starters, developing a pre-sleep routine can help prepare the body and mind for sleep. This can include relaxing, taking a warm bath, reading, listening to calming music, drinking herbal tea, writing in a journal, practicing restorative yoga, or meditating. If you have an essential oil diffuser, try adding a few drops of lavender or a night time blend of oils. Avoiding bright lights, loud noises, and computer screens before sleep is recommended. A consistent sleep schedule, in which sleep and wake up times are kept constant, can also help.
A dark, cool, and quiet bedroom is an excellent way to promote more restful sleep as well. A few ideas to help create this environment include using black out or dark curtains, earplugs and not leaving the heater on all night. Because stress is often a cause of sleep deprivation, efforts to reduce stress are important. For example, consider simplifying your lifestyle, setting priorities, delegating, and taking breaks. Avoiding large meals, caffeine, and nicotine before bedtime also helps.
Lifestyle changes are not the simplest things to alter instantaneously, but efforts to tweak your daily habits regarding sleep may benefit you tremendously while you are awake. Your body is the only place you have to live, so let it recharge. Don’t run on a low battery if you don’t have to!