Sleep! We all need it. Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each day to function at peak performance ... more or less can put your health at risk. In order to rejuvenate the mind and body, we need both non-rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and REM sleep to function at peak performance.
But, for many adults, getting to sleep and staying asleep are major challenges. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 70 sleep disorders affect at least 40 million Americans and account for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year, not counting costs due to lost work time, car accidents and other factors.
Need help? Here are a few tips:
Create a thankful list. Instead of focusing on the negative, focusing on the things in your life for which you can be thankful may help you relax.
Avoid hidden stimulants. Chocolate can have the same effect as coffee, colas or nicotine. Read your medication labels for hidden amounts of caffeine. Prescription drugs, weight-loss pills, diuretics, cold medications and other non-prescription drugs may contain more caffeine than a cup of coffee. Thinking about warming up with a hot spot of tea on a cool fall evening before snuggling in to bed? Check the package – many teas are naturally caffeinated. Opt for a decaffeinated tea, instead.
Other foods to avoid before bed. Spicy foods and foods high in fat and protein can also disrupt healthy sleep patterns. As your body transitions into a state of relaxation during sleep, your body’s systems begin to slow and rest. Foods high in fat require the stomach to work harder, which means less restful sleep for you. Spicy foods may induce heartburn. Foods such as garlic, Tabasco sauce and mustard, may cause indigestion, light up heartburn, and elevate body temperatures – conditions that will keep your body and mind from getting the restorative rest it needs. Indulging in a big, juicy steak or large chicken breast may also affect your ease of ZZZZs. Your stomach will need to work overtime to digest the large amount of protein, which could prevent you from falling or staying asleep.
Think twice about eating sweets before bed. While that sweet treat might stop your craving for the moment, it may wake you up a few hours later. Devouring a dessert high in sugar before bed will give your body a boost of energy that may hinder your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. The downside to eating sugary snacks before bed do not end there – the sugar you consume before your body rests will be stored as fat. While the inability to sleep soundly may be enough of a nightmare, pre-bedtime, high-sugar snacks can actually cause nightmares. According to one study, 7 out of 10 people who eat junk food before hitting the sack were more likely to have nightmares.
Eat foods that can help you sleep. Consume foods that are high in tryptophan, like nuts and seeds, bananas, eggs and honey. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps babies grow and stimulates the body’s production of serotonin, which is a mood stabilizer that helps promote sleep.
Cherries, unsweetened cherry juice and grapes have high levels of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally in the body and regulates the biological clock that promotes a restful sleep.
Avoid alcohol. A drink might make you tired in the short-term, but after the alcohol has been metabolized and turned to sugar, it may wake you and leave you tossing and turning.
Consuming alcohol before bed also interferes with the restorative functions of sleep. A recent study used electrocardiograms to measure the relationship between heart rate variability and sleep of study participants given no alcohol, a low dose of alcohol and a higher dose of alcohol. As the participants were sleeping, their heart rates were measured.
Normally, a person’s heart rate slows during sleep, which helps the body rest and restore for the next day. In the study, participants receiving the low and higher doses of alcohol exhibited higher heart rates than the participants who were not given any alcohol. This increase in heart rate is due to the additional stimulation caused by the alcohol in the bloodstream. During regular sleep, the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant over the sympathetic nervous system and allows the body to rest and digest. When alcohol is consumed before sleep, the sympathetic nervous system, which functions during stimulating activities, is kicked in to gear, resulting in poor quality of rest.
The effects of over-stimulation that alcohol consumption has on the nervous system is even more damaging to sleep in the case of habitual drinkers. Not only does habitual drinking have negative effects on sleep, but it also can result in social problems, fatigue, disease and organ failure.
Tips for getting shut-eye – faster
Count backwards. Often as we lie down, the stress of the day moves into our heads, raising heart rates, blood pressure and adrenaline – counting backwards from 300 by 3’s may eventually result in boredom ... and sleep.
Keep a schedule. Turning-in at the same time each night can prompt your body to develop a routine and automatically prepare itself for rest each night. Scheduling a period in which your body and mind can wind-down before sleep can also help induce sleep faster.
Limit naps. If a nap is absolutely necessary, try not to rest for more than 30 minutes. Napping for longer than 30 minutes may throw-off your body’s sleep cycle and make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.
Exercise – but not at night. Studies show that people who exercise routinely, fall asleep faster and sleep better. Though regular exercise in the mornings, afternoons and early evenings can help you fall asleep, exercising too close to bedtime raises your body temperature and brings your body to a more alert state, which could make falling asleep more difficult. Try to schedule workouts at least 3 hours before bed to allow your body to cool down and relax before attempting to sleep.
Women have more sleep problems
- Girls are three times more likely than boys to develop insomnia during puberty.
- Nearly one third of women working outside the home report sleep problems.
- Both pregnancy and menopause affect a woman’s sleep patterns.
- By age 65, a woman has a 73 percent greater risk of insomnia than a man.
- One in four women age 65 and over have sleep apnea.
- About 20 percent of pregnant women get restless leg syndrome.
The dangers of too little sleep
A lack of sleep can affect your ability to learn and concentrate. It also affects your ability to think, reason and make sound decisions. This is especially serious if you drive when you are in a sleep-deprived state. Studies show that a sleep-deprived person has same reaction time and level of alertness as someone who is drunk. It is dangerous to drive when you have not had enough sleep.
Lack of sleep can affect your mood If you are normally a happy-go-lucky person and you don’t get enough sleep you may become irritable and impatient. People with extended periods of sleep deprivation may also become depressed. Shift workers often have a harder time getting enough sleep. You can download tips for shift workers.
Lack of sleep can affect your heart. During non-REM sleep, the heart rate slows and blood pressure becomes lower as you enter the stages of deep sleep. During REM stages, your heart rate and blood pressure may become erratic in response to dreams. Both of these situations, but especially the drop in blood pressure, promote cardiovascular health.
The lack of a good night’s sleep may prompt your body to release more stress hormones throughout the day in response to normal activities. Elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline may increase your risk for heart disease.
Too little sleep decreases your hormones. The release of both growth and sex hormones are triggered during deep sleep. These hormones boost muscle mass, help in the repair of cells, and improve fertility. Lack of sleep can also cause insulin and blood sugar levels to rise. Studies show that too little sleep can contribute to the development of diabetes.
Less sleep means less immunity. People who get enough sleep each night are usually less susceptible to colds and flu. As you sleep your body manufactures cytokines, which are hormones that help the immune system fight infections. These hormones help the body produce antibodies when a person is well rested.
A decrease in sleep can mean an increase in weight. Sleep can also affect your weight. Adequate sleep allows the body to produce leptin, which is an appetite suppressor. As this natural appetite suppressor increases, the hormone gherlin, which is an appetite stimulant, decreases. The body is created in such a way as to call for food as an added energy source when it does not get enough restful sleep. People who sleep 5 hours a night or less have more of a chance of becoming obese.
Sleep is important for survival
If you don’t get adequate sleep, you may be shortening your life. But how much sleep do you need?
The answer depends on your age:
- Newborns – 16 to 18 hours
- Pre-school children – 11 and 12 hours
- School-aged children – 10 hours
- Adolescents – 9 to 10 hours
- Adults – 7 to 9 hours
- Elderly people – 7 to 9 hours
Many times older people have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
This is not a normal part of aging, but more likely due to a medical condition, medications or an illness.
The National Institutes of Health provides a sleep guide with helpful tips and advice relating to healthy sleep. Click here for more in-depth information on sleep.
If you’ve tried everything and sleep still alludes you, you may want to undergo a sleep study, which may be able to determine if you are suffering insomnia or sleep apnea.