As you begin your new year wellness plan, do not over look the importance of sleep. Whether you resolve to lose weight, eat more healthfully or reduce stress, getting a restful night’s sleep can help you achieve your goal. You have heard the term “beauty rest,” but high-quality sleep – and enough of it – is important for much more than just you looks.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans average 6.9 hours of sleep each night. Over a quarter of the population reports occasionally not sleeping enough, and almost 10% have chronic insomnia. While individual sleep needs vary, adults typically need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night to perform at their very best. Controlled experiments have shown that lack of sleep affects people’s ability to focus on even simple tasks. One of the largest sleep deprivation studies, conducted in 2003, found that subjects who slept eight hours a day had no decline in cognition or in their response time on a simple test. Those who had only four to six hours of sleep per day declined steadily in their cognitive ability, memory and attention span over the course of 14 days. Sleepiness is a major safety risk for activities like driving and operating heavy machinery and is reported to negatively affect mood, concentration, attention, relationships and job performance.
In recent decades, epidemiologic studies have found associations between shorter sleep cycles and weight gain, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression. Further experimental studies suggest that our sleep cycles can affect the complex metabolic processes that regulate weight, appetite and energy levels. There are several possible explanations for why those getting less sleep are at a higher risk for obesity. One possibility is that hormones such as leptin and ghrelin, which regulate appetite, may be dsyregulated when the body does not get enough sleep. One study found that sleep-deprived participants ate more overall calories and more carbohydrate-rich snacks compared to their adequately rested counterparts. Another found that people who were dieting and getting enough sleep lost a similar amount of weight as those who were dieting and getting too little sleep, but the group getting enough sleep lost more of their weight as body fat. While adequate sleep is important for people of all ages, it is believed to be particularly important for brain development, regulation of appetite and energy expenditure in children and adolescents.
So what can we do to get better sleep?
Creat a comfortable sleep environment
- Reduce light, noise, disruptions and distractions. Turn off the tv, radio, lights and all other light-emitting screens, including computers and mobile devices.
- Make your bed a place for sleeping and not much else. Avoid working on the computer, eating or watching tv in bed. Better yet, remove all entertainment devices and gadgets completely.
- Set a comfortable temperature. A cool, well-ventilated room seems to help most people sleep better.
Develop healthy habits
- Try to stick to regular sleeping times. Short (no more than 1-hour) naps may be refreshing, but longer periods of daytime sleep may interfere with the quality of nighttime sleep.
- Maintain a relaxing “wind-down” routine at bedtime. Avoid over-stimulating activities or stressful conversations so you don’t bring your problems to bed with you.
- Regular exercise during the day may help you achieve more restful sleep.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine up to 4-6 hours before sleeping as they can interfere with sleep. Although alcohol may cause sleepiness, it actually increases the number of times you wake up during the night therefore decreasing the quality of sleep.
Finally, tell your physician if you are having trouble sleeping or feel drowsy during the day despite adequate sleep. A variety of physical and psychological problems can interfere with sleep and alertness. Your health care team can help you find ways to get a better night’s rest as part of an overall health and wellness plan.
National Sleep Foundation: http://www.sleepfoundation.org
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Sleep and Sleep Disorders: http://www.cdc.gov/sleep/
University of Maryland Medical Center, Sleep Disorders Center: http://www.umm.edu/sleep/index.htm
University of Pennsylvania, Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology: http://www.med.upenn.edu/sleepctr/
Spivey, Angela. Lose Sleep, Gain Weight: Another Piece of the Obesity Puzzle. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2010 January; 118(1): A28-A33. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2831987
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