When I was a kid, I remember learning about Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer in the 16th Century, searching for the fountain of youth. Perhaps if he had spent more time sleeping and less time searching, he would have found it. The fountain of youth is sleep!
We are a society that is driven to perfection. We have to do it all. We need to get an "A" in all areas of our lives—being a parent, spouse, worker, friend, child, etc. Focusing on getting an A often means getting fewer Zzzzzs. The demands on our time are starting so young these days too. Look at how busy kids are now with all of their in-school and after-school activities. It's a lot more frenetic than when I was growing up. We are averaging almost two hours less sleep a night today than our grandparents. In fact, 43 percent of adults say that they are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with their daily activity and 60 percent of children under the age of 18 say they are tired during the school day (with 15 percent admitting they fall asleep in class).
Are you and your children getting enough sleep? Sleep is highly underrated. It is not something that is "nice to have"; it is essential for your health. In fact, lack of sleep impacts motor skills such that driving while sleep deprived is comparable to drunk driving! At least 100,000 car accidents in the U.S. each year are caused by sleepy drivers. It also weakens your immune system which puts you at greater risk of disease and infection. And, it increases accident risk, stress, anxiety, and depression. Sleep is a natural antidote to the damage done to our bodies during the course of the day. During sleep, our bodies replenish the immune system, eliminate free radicals, ward off heart disease, and alleviate our mood imbalances.
If you fall asleep as soon as you get into bed at night, have difficulty waking up in the morning, are moody and irritable, and fall asleep at work or in class, you may be sleep deprived. Generally, 8 hours of sleep is the norm, though the range people need varies from 6 to 10 hours. If you suffer from a sleep disorder, including insomnia, excessive drowsiness, sleep apnea, and restless movement during sleep, you are not alone—so do over 60 million Americans. There are many factors that can affect your sleep including stress, hormonal changes, excessive caffeine intake, little or no exercise, shift work, medication side effects, and alcohol consumption.
Below are some tips on getting a good night's sleep that are prescription-free:
- Sleep in complete darkness and silence. If you don’t have a dark room, wear eye patches. For silence, wear earplugs.
- Don't drink caffeinated beverages after lunch.
- Try eating a snack before bed that is a complex carbohydrate paired with a low protein, such as apples with almond butter or a cup of oatmeal with milk.
- Learn and practice a relaxation technique to do before bedtime. This could be breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation.
- Keep a journal and write in it before bed. How many of us lie in bed with our minds going a mile a minute? Write your thoughts out before bed to get them out of your head.
- Avoid drinking too many fluids within two hours of going to bed to minimize trips to the bathroom.
- Exercise regularly (but not too close to bed time).
- Relax before bed (listen to music, take a bath)
- Make your bedroom a place for sleeping—not for watching TV, eating, or working.
- Stop smoking, nicotine is a stimulant.
- Watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol may help put you to sleep faster, but your sleep will be disrupted.
In today’s busy world, we have a lot of demands on our time. Don't sacrifice your sleep time to get it all done. In the long run, it will end up reducing your productivity and compromising your health.
Ponce de Leon never found the fountain, but you can. Just get more Zzzzzs. What steps will you take to get a better night's sleep?
Dina Colman is a health writer and consultant. She has her MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern University and will graduate with a Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education in June 2011 from John F. Kennedy University. She founded FourQuadrantLiving.com, a website providing information on healthy living through nourishment of the four quadrants of our lives—mind, body, relationships, and environment. This blog is from the Body quadrant. Contact Dina at firstname.lastname@example.org