Are you chronically tired? Do you hit the snooze button multiple times in the morning? When was the last time you awoke feeling refreshed? Sleep is critically important, but we sacrifice it all the time. Think back to vacations, when you could sleep-in until you woke naturally. Remember how wonderful that felt?
We all need sleep. Sleep is an opportunity for the body to recharge and fortify for the next day. When we sleep, our heart rates, blood pressure, and breathing slow down.
In general, adults need eight hours of sleep per night. But American adults do not get enough sleep and, as a consequence, are frequently sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation occurs when you experience less than eight hours of sleep on successive nights—or, on occasion, when you get no sleep at all. Missing two hours of sleep- time every night for a week is the equivalent of missing two full nights of sleep. You can’t make up lost sleep!
What happens when you deprive your body of needed sleep? Sleep deprivation causes poor memory and decision-making, crankiness, and carbohydrate craving. Our brains say yes we can do this—drive a car, jaywalk, or use that new power saw out in the yard. But when we’re sleep deprived, our vision and physical reaction time can be off by just a fraction—and that can make all the difference in the world. It’s been found that accident rates increase when people are sleepy. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and the Exxon Valdez events were all linked to sleep deprivation. Not many of us control nuclear power plants or steer oil tankers, but we do drive cars. A two-ton vehicle can drift off the road in a blink of a sleepy eye.
Poor sleep causes high blood pressure, heart disease, and large waistlines. Ever crave a doughnut or pancakes after being up all night? The post-club visit to Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles for that late night fix is biological. The body has been up way too long and is now releasing hormones that cause it to crave calorie-dense foods: waffles, fried chicken, greasy hamburgers. The body is saying, “Feed me, I am under stress.”
With a little practice we can all get a good night’s sleep.
Good sleep habits include going to bed and arising at the same time each day and leaving the energy drinks, coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages alone after 5 p.m.
Exercise helps you wind down and de-stress, but not too close to bedtime, as it can have the opposite effect.
Watch what you eat for dinner; heartburn can interfere with restorative sleep. Keep your bedroom quiet and dark. If your cell phone is at your bedside, move it so the blinking light or sound does not interrupt you.
Drink a glass of warm milk; it has tryptophan, which enhances sleep.
Lavender aromatherapy is also relaxing and can help to induce sleep.
So can counting sheep or blessings. Sleep tight.
Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and holistic medicine. In addition to her clinical responsibilities, she speaks at many community forums and delivers health awareness presentations. Dr. Morris is active in social networking and has made guest appearances on the Weather Channel’s Weekend View and Atlanta’s Fox 5 News.