Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sleep Hygiene

Are you the kind of person who goes to bed each night and falls asleep almost instantly? Does your spouse or partner take many more minutes to fall asleep each night than you do? Which of these two people is the person with the problem?

The correct answer is: the person who falls asleep instantly is the person with the problem. Surprised? Many people assume that they have trouble sleeping if they can’t fall asleep right away. Some are even jealous of partners who can fall asleep instantly or who can sleep anywhere at any time.

So, what’s going on? Blame our constantly on-the-go society. We’re being challenged to fit more and more into our daily routine. How many hours did you sleep last night?

How Much Sleep is Enough?

Research by noted experts including Dr. James Maas of Cornell University has found that our bodies need about one hour of sleep for every 2 hours of wakefulness. So, in any given 24 hour period, we need about 8 hours of sleep. When we get less sleep than we need, we begin to accumulate a sleep debt. Effects are cumulative and lead to becoming sleep deprived.

One need not look any further than to young children to understand that lack of sleep becomes a bigger issue as we age. Most young children are easily observed as having no shortage of energy. Fast forward to college-age people and it becomes easier to see signs of lack of sleep such as dark under-eye circles not to mention sleeping during class. Fast forward into middle aged adulthood and it’s common for people to say something like, “I used to have more energy.”

Are You Sleep Deprived?

Do you often fall asleep in less than 5 minutes? Do you need an alarm clock to awake at an appropriate hour? Is it a struggle to get out of bed in the morning? Are you tired, irritable and stressed during the week? Do you fall asleep watching TV? Do you fall asleep in meetings? If you answered yes to more than a couple of these questions, it is likely you aren’t getting enough sleep.

Current research suggests that more than 1 in 5 adults in the US are moderately to seriously sleep deprived. The effects of this are far reaching. Business and industry lose billions of dollars because of worker absences and mistakes made on the job. And, fatigue is often cited in vehicle accidents.

Our Body’s Rhythm

Our body’s progression from a state of wakefulness to a state of restfulness is called our circadian rhythm. It’s important for us to pay attention to that natural rhythm. In general, we tend to be more alert during lighted hours and less alert in darker hours. In part this is due to the secretion of the hormone melatonin which increases after dark and helps our body become better prepared for sleep.

Sleep studies have been conducted demonstrating just how powerful this rhythm is. The Multiple Sleep Latency Test involves taking a person who has awakened from a full night’s sleep and then measuring their ability to fall back asleep every 20 minutes over the next 10 hours. The faster someone is able to get back to sleep, the bigger the indication that they are sleep deprived.

How is Your Sleep Hygiene?

Just as paying attention to good brushing and flossing techniques are to good dental hygiene, paying attention to good sleep habits relates to better sleep hygiene. Optimizing your own sleep hygiene includes: establishing a regular routine for when you go to bed and when you wake up – never varying by more than one hour either way 7 days a week; keeping your bedroom cool (around 65˚) and dark; removing all electronic devices except a phone for emergencies; avoiding nicotine, caffeine and alcohol for at least 3 hours before bedtime; avoiding naps or sleeping in; eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.

By getting a better night’s sleep you’ll likely find your overall health, wellness and happiness increasing over time. Once your sleep debt has been repaid – and you continue to observe optimal sleep hygiene – you may naturally discover a more energetic state. Who knows, maybe your golf game might even improve!

Sleep well.

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