Are you wearing the look of sleep deprivation like a badge of courage? Many of you get fewer than seven hours of shut-eye per night during the work week. Your body, however, may need eight or nine. Some of us get so little sleep because we are trying to carve out just a little more time from our already full, hectic days. Others may have bad sleeping habits, poor health problems, or sleep issues.
Whatever the cause, sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. In the short term, it can result in the inability to cope, lack of energy, increased irritability, and decreased immunity to infections. Over the long term, it can bring on depression and memory loss and affect logical reasoning. If you go without sleep long enough, it can be deadly. Over 100,000 highway accidents a year are believed to be fatigue-related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington, DC. Many researchers believe that adequate sleep is a major determinant of longevity, even more so than nutrition and exercise.
To be well-rested, you need to get an adequate number of hours of slumber each night, and that sleep must be deep and undisturbed. Signs that you are not getting enough rest include falling asleep almost immediately upon going to bed (it should take between 10-15 minutes to doze off), needing an alarm clock to rouse you, or feeling sluggish upon rising.
Try to remedy a lack of good sleep by moving your bedtime up in 30 minute increments. You might also eliminate daytime naps if they seem to interfere with nighttime sleep. If, however, you are someone for whom naps are restorative, use this to your advantage. In order to be refreshing and help make up for serious sleep deprivation, naps should be the length of a complete sleep cycle, which is typically an hour to 90 minutes. If these tactics don’t work, you may be the victim of a sleep disorder, which you should address with a professional.
Insomnia is defined as not getting enough sleep. People suffering from it may have trouble falling asleep, returning to sleep, and/or they may awaken earlier than they would like. When insomnia lasts fewer than three weeks, it is considered short-term and is often the result of stress or bad environmental conditions. If it lasts longer and is interfering with your life, make an appointment to see your doctor as there are some health conditions and life stages that can interfere with sleep. For persistent problems, your doctor may refer you to a sleep clinic.
Sleep apnea is a temporary cessation of breathing during sleep which can cause loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. Nasal congestion, drinking alcohol in the evening, being overweight, and sleeping on your back all contribute to the problem, so changing these factors may help. If not, see your doctor.
Teeth grinding can interfere with the quality of your sleep and cause headaches, so you should see your dentist if this is occurring.
Restless legs syndrome is an involuntary urge to move one or both legs, which produces a sensation that can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Symptoms tend to worsen when you’re reclining. Taking a hot bath before bed, massage, moderate exercise, cutting out caffeine, and using a heating pad or ice pack may help. If they don’t and the syndrome is negatively affecting your life, consult your doctor.
Jet lag results from traveling to different time zones. Your body has a hard time adjusting, and fatigue and an inability to sleep soundly can result. To minimize its effects, be sure to get a good night’s sleep and plenty of exercise the day before you leave. When you arrive, get out in the natural light to reset your body clock.
PMS sleep problems are due to a sensitivity to the natural hormonal changes that occur during a woman’s menstrual cycle. To improve sleep, reduce stress by increasing the amount of exercise you get. Don’t drink caffeine, which can make you jittery.
Pregnancy disrupts sleep, so be prepared. To minimize problems, drink more fluids during the day but cut back on them in the late afternoon and evening to minimize trips to the bathroom during the night. Get plenty of low intensity exercise early in the day to increase blood circulation and reduce leg cramps. Snack on bland food to avoid nausea. To increase sleep comfort, use extra pillows for support. If heartburn is a problem, elevate the head of your bed and avoid eating late or consuming too much spicy, acidic, fried, or salty food.
Menopausal and postmenopausal sleep problems are caused by a natural decrease in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Even when quantity of sleep doesn’t vary, quality can suffer. Talk to your doctor about what may help minimize symptoms, and be aware that having the doctor prescribe the correct drug and dosage may take some trial and error. To help you stay cool, use lighter bed coverings and pajamas, lower the temperature in the bedroom, and keep a glass of ice water at your bedside.
Lisa Alexander is a freelance writer
Good Bedtime Habits
- Set and keep a regular sleep schedule
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Take a warm shower or bath
- Do this 90 minutes before bed to
- trigger a rise and fall in body temperature, which will help make you sleepy.
- Wind down with soothing music, reading, or watching TV
- This gives your body cues to get ready for sleep.
- Before bed, have a cup of warm milk
- Milk contains the sleep-promoting substance tryptophan, which acts as a building block for serotonin, a brain chemical that is a modulator of sleep.
- Create a dark, comfortable, and quiet environment
- Try a sleep mask and earplugs to block out sleep-disrupting light and noise.
- Breathe deeply
- Try deep, rhythmic breathing to help you relax and unwind.
- Use meditation and relaxation techniques
- Concentrate on a single word or focus on a body sensation. You may want to try positive imagery, such as recalling a pleasant memory in great detail. Try to experience all your senses.
- Don’t engage in stimulating activities
- Don’t watch the news, balance your checkbook, or exercise strenuously just before going to bed.
- Don’t eat protein, food additives, or cruciferous vegetables
- They are difficult to digest and can interfere with sleep.
- Don’t use caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine
- Used/consumed within four hours of bedtime, these can interfere with your body’s ability to fall asleep.