National Sleep Awareness Month is observed in March annually. This is a great opportunity to stop and think about your sleep habits and how to improve them. Also, the second Sunday in March is Daylight Savings where we get to “spring ahead” and advance our clocks one hour. “Spring ahead” and “fall back” may affect you more than you know, so it is important to be aware of your sleep and your health.
How have you been sleeping lately? How much sleep are you getting? What is the quality of your sleep? How is your sleep, or lack of, impacting your well-being?
Getting enough quality sleep is not a luxury. It is something you must prioritize to care for your body.
Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night and getting less may pose serious consequences to your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers insufficient sleep a public health epidemic because there is an increased risk for developing other health concerns if you are not getting the sleep your body needs.
Not getting enough sleep is linked to many chronic diseases and conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. Poor sleep can lead to vehicle crashes and mistakes at work, such as injury. According to the CDC, people who reported sleeping six hours or less per night were significantly more likely to fall asleep while driving than those who reported sleeping seven to nine hours nightly.
Benefits of Healthy Sleep
- Improved physical and mental health
- Improved immune function
- Decreased risk for serious health conditions
- Improved productivity and concentration
- Decreased stress
- Improved mood
- Healthier weight
- Improved overall quality of life
What Happens During Sleep
Sleep is not just a time for you to rest, it is a productive process for your body. About every 90 minutes, your body alternates through a pattern of REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. It repeats that cycle, while your body is working to restore energy, remove waste products from cells, grow and repair tissues, increase blood supply to muscles, and produce and release hormones. When you don’t get an adequate amount of sleep, your body cannot effectively repair itself, and that is when health conditions arise.
- Stick to a sleep schedule with the same bedtime and wake up time to help regulate your body’s internal clock. Avoid long naps, especially in the afternoon if you have difficulty sleeping at night.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime routine to calm down and prepare your body for sleep. Effective routines vary for everyone, but some examples are reading a book, taking a warm bath or shower, or doing light stretching.
- Exercise daily. Whether you run 5 miles a day, lift weights, walk around your neighborhood after dinner, or dance in your living room with your toddler, it can help promote quality sleep.
- Evaluate your room. Is your sleep environment pleasant? Your mattress and pillow should be comfortable, the temperature should be between 60-67 degrees, and keep the room as dark and quiet as you can. Some other ways to make your bedroom more relaxing for sleep are blackout curtains, white noise machines, earplugs, and fans.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol closer to bedtime. Also, keep distance from food that can be disruptive right before sleep such as heavy and rich foods, fatty or fried meals, citrus fruits, spicy foods, and carbonated drinks as they can possibly trigger indigestion for some people.
If you feel like sleep is impacting your health in a negative way, try tracking your sleep to see the trends that can be improved. Seeing your trends on paper can be a powerful way to make incremental changes for your health. Here are some items related to your sleep to track for 7-21 days:
Complete in Morning
- What time you went to bed
- What time you go out of bed
- Did you fall asleep easily?
- Did you wake up in the middle of the night? If so, how many times and for how long?
- How many hours slept
- Were there any sleep disturbances? (noise, stress, temperature, etc.)
Complete at the End of the Day
- How much caffeine was consumed and when?
- Did you exercise? If so, how long and when?
- List of medications taken
- Did you take a nap? If yes, for how long?
- Did you feel like dozing off during the day? If so, how often?
- How was your mood?
- What did you consume 2-3 hours before going to bed?
- What did you do the hour before bed?
If you are still having trouble sleeping, speak with your doctor or find a sleep professional.