Let's face it...most of us don't get enough sleep! How much sleep will vary on the individual, but 7-8 hrs is a good average for optimal health. When we aren't well rested, we can get irritable, forgetful, our immune system is lowered, muscle can't rebuild, our bodies can't rebuild, and we are at a higher risk of health problems, such as high blood pressure.
Check out this article by Darnell Cox of Live Young Lifestyle for a better understanding of how and why sleep is beneficial and how to get more in your life.
Are you tired? C’mon, be honest. You’re tired.
Most people do not take the quantity (or quality) of their sleep seriously. In a bustling world made more accessible thanks to the internet and social media, our competitive drive to “keep up with the Joneses” (or, these days, to keep up with the Kardashians) has unsurprisingly created an ever-growing population of functioning zombies, complete with bloodshot eyes and lagging energy. Simply put, most of us don’t get the amount of sleep required for optimum health. And the sleep-deprived walking dead wear this as a badge of honor, often bragging about how little sleep they need to be “on top of their game.” They proudly stay jacked-up on venti-double-shot lattes and appropriately named, highly-caffeinated, “monster” drinks to make up for their lack of shut-eye.
I’m exhausted just writing about it!
But here’s the thing. It’s nothing to brag about. There are serious health risks involved with sleep deprivation. Health advocates can talk until they are blue in the face, scream their latest research results from the highest mountaintops, or plaster their statistics on billboards across the country… and still, most of us don’t take the topic seriously. “I can sleep when I’m dead,” I’ve heard people say. Well that, my friends, may be sooner than you think, if you are sleeping less than 7 hours per night. And if that did not get your attention, maybe this will…Sleeping less than 7 hours every night will make you FAT! Yep! You heard me. I’m glad I caught your attention. Moving on.
1. Serious health problems: Chronic sleep loss has been closely linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, heart attacks, and diabetes.
2. Memory loss: If you want to keep your mind sharp, you need to get plenty of sleep. There is lots of research that shows the need for deep sleep in order to store long-term memories.
3. Lack of Sex Drive: Woah! Okay, now you’re interested, right? Lower libidos and decreased interest in sex have been correlated with sleep deprivation. Furthermore, men with sleep apnea, which leads to disrupted sleep patterns, have been shown to have lower levels of testosterone. So, it seems that the more time you spend in bed sleeping, the more time you also get to spend desiring – and engaging in – sex (Note: The bed is optional).
4. Increase risk for osteoporosis: Research now reveals that a lack of sleep may lead to an increase in the risk of osteoporosis. Okay, folks, this is serious. We’ve all seen the hunched-over old men and women who only have the view of the earth beneath their feet. I don’t know about you, but I need to see where I’m going in life. Our bones go through plenty of wear and tear throughout the day; if we are not sleeping enough, bones are not given adequate time for repair. This leads to a loss of bone density, which could lead to an increase in fractures, especially since sleep deprivation also leads to increased frequency of accidents. Which brings us to the next point.
5. Increase in accidents: Chernobyl, The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, American Airlines Flight 1420 Crash, The Challenger Explosion…. all of these major accidents were blamed on sleep deprivation. So if you think that a lack of sleep doesn’t increase your chances of slipping on the stairs and breaking a hip, or decreasing your reaction time in a car accident, I beg to differ. The world is a dangerous enough place when we are awake and alert. Don’t increase your risks by navigating your way through life’s potholes, only half-awake. Sleep deprived, you are an accident waiting to happen.
6. Accelerated aging of skin: Yep. That’s right. Research shows that lack of sleep accelerates signs of skin aging, including an increase in the number of fine lines and an overall loss of elasticity. Yikes! In addition, poor sleepers are also more likely to perceive themselves as unattractive when asked to rate their appearance.
7. Increased weight gain: If aging skin, health risks, slower reaction time, and lack of sex drive aren’t enough to sound the metaphorical snooze alarm, here’s the real kicker…. lack of sleep makes you fat! Just as we often mistake thirst for hunger, we also mistake being tired for being hungry. Furthermore, an increase in “waking” hours directly correlates to an increase in “eating” hours. So, if you get more zzz’s, you not only feel less hungry throughout the day, but you also have less hours of eating opportunity.
For those of you who have made it this far through the blog (without falling asleep), this next section gives you the tools you need to get your best night’s sleep, every night.
1. Create a safe and comfortable sleep environment: This is rule #1, for a good reason. How many of you feel that your pillow isn’t 100% right? Or your mattress doesn’t give you the optimal amount of support, mixed with comfort? Perhaps your black-out shades on the windows just aren’t “black-outish” enough? Join the club, folks! We spend so much time and money making sure the entry hall to our home (as well as everything else the outside world might possibly see) leaves a good impression on others. And yet, we skimp on the details necessary for the ultimate experience of our own comfort; sleep. Invest in yourself. Invest in your sleep.
2. Follow a regular sleep cycle: C’mon folks, this is a no-brainer. Those of us who have children, we know the drill. We’ve done it for our little ones throughout their whole lives. Why do we fail when it comes to our own health? Keeping our bedtime on a (relatively) regular time-schedule works at any age. I’m not a party-pooper though; some evenings scream for a late night. And when my body screams for anything, I stand up straight and take note. But most of the time, I stick to a bedtime and a bedtime ritual that assure that I’ll have between 7-8 solid hours of sleep. There’s a reason airline stewardesses tell you – in an emergency – to put on your own oxygen mask first. Take care of yourself first, people, and you will find that you are much more efficient on solving the world’s (or your family’s) problems.
3. Limit any type of electronic stimulation: Electronic devices with screens, such as computers, televisions, reading devices and tablets, emit “blue light.” This type of light reads in our brains as daylight, which triggers a lowering in melatonin production. And less melatonin means you feel less tired (see below)… even if you’re truly in need of sleep. For your best night’s sleep, try to limit these devices to daytime use. And if this is truly impossible, turn your machines off at least an hour or two before bedtime. So, all you late-night social media folks may be sabotaging your sleep. (I’m just sayin’.) And if you are Facebook-ing, Tweet-ing, Instagram-ing or Match.Com-ing, while drinking a glass of wine, kicking back in your bed…. well, my friends, you have a perfect storm of insomnia. Speaking of alcohol…
4. Stay away from alcohol (or any other”substance,” for that matter) to fall asleep: This is a bad habit waiting to happen. Although passing out in a drunken stupor seems like a good idea at the time (let’s face it… at the TIME, it always seems like a good idea), chances are you will be waking up 3-4 hours later. And, if you’re lucky enough to fall back asleep, you’ll continue to have fitful sleep throughout the rest of the night. There is a lot of sugar in alcohol and, although alcohol is a depressant, once that sugar kicks in, you’re stimulated. And not falling asleep!
5. Try to limit your naps: So, you’ve tossed and turned all night. You’ve gotten up to go to the bathroom a few times. Ugh! And you find yourself mid-day, with your eyes half-closed, longing for that shot of espresso. Or maybe “just a little nap.” I hate to say this, but if you really want to get back on track, forego the nap and tough it out. A week or so of mid-day dragging will send you to bed earlier and get you back on track. (Note: If you have always been a daily napper, and it does not effect your night-time schedule, then – by all means – have at it). If, however, you are a sporadic napper, based only on how much you’ve slept the previous night, then beware. This is not going to help you get back on schedule.
6. Use your bed for sleeping and sex only: I have a strict “sex or sleep” policy in my bedroom. I haven’t always been that way. I used to only be able to fall asleep while watching “Friends” re-runs. (Different husband, different time). It took me a long time to adapt to this rule, but let me just say, both the sleep and sex are better. Done! Moving on.
7. Watch what you eat and drink: Stay away from all caffeinated beverages from 5:00 pm onwards. (For me, 3:00 pm is the cut-off time.) In addition, most nutritionists say to stop eating after 7:00 pm. I simply don’t believe or follow this. It’s bad enough that our metabolism slows for the (hopefully) 8 hours that we sleep; why are we starving ourselves for even longer periods of time? I firmly believe in a snack, two hours before bedtime. However, choose your snacks wisely. Which brings us to the final point.
8. Melatonin: A few hours before you want to sleep, try to eat melatonin-rich foods: alfalfa sprouts, cherries, bananas, tomatoes, pineapples, oats, oranges, sweet potatoes, and/or sunflower seeds. Melatonin is a hormone, naturally produced by your body, and stimulated by the foods listed above. However, it is also available in a pill. Melatonin tablets are not recommended for more than a 2-week time span, because such use can adversely affect your natural hormones. If taken in the evening, melatonin-rich foods (or pills) signal your internal clock that it’s time to sleep. As an avid traveler, I often need help adjusting my circadian rhythms, so I always travel with Melatonin. But at home, I opt for the melatonin-rich foods before bed. For a more extensive guideline on how to use Melatonin, visit http://www.talkaboutsleep.com/how-to-use-melatonin-correctly/
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