The Best Path to a Healthy Night’s Sleep

Do you feel refreshed and alert in the morning after a good night of sleep?

Maybe that doesn’t happen often enough. Perhaps, it has been so long since you’ve felt that way that you’ve forgotten how you’re supposed to feel in the morning.

Chronic sleep deprivation appears to be a growth industry in the U.S. where someone has said, “We are a country that is open for business 24/7.” As a modern society, we definitely sleep less than in decades past.

Numerous artificial factors have influenced our sleep patterns. Life is busier and more demanding. Innovation has created a vast array of opportunities in communication and information technology that profoundly affect our daily lives. And with round the clock news cycles and instant messaging to any place on the planet, demands on our time and stress have increased.

Angel Sleepsphoto © 2007 planetchopstick | more info (via: Wylio)

Further, more people than ever work around the clock on shifts that conflict with our normal circadian rhythm. The ubiquitous television, computer screens and artificial lighting are more stimulating than people realize.

In turn, this adversely affects our sense of fatigue and interferes with our ability to get to sleep and rest in a normal physiologic manner. We are no longer synchronized to the cycles of day and night in conjunction with our internal bio-rhythms.

Research has shown the large majority of adults require seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Younger children need considerably more, but teens are notorious for burning the candle at both ends. Science has shown that they too need an average of 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep to be adequately rested and recharged.

Adequate quality sleep is not a luxury or simple matter of convenience. Numerous studies have shown an inadequate amount of sleep in adults leads to serious metabolic and mental changes: greater risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, compromised immune system, weight gain, car accidents and other injuries due to impaired judgment occur more with inadequate sleep.

Overall, less productivity in school and the workplace is connected to sleep deprivation. In teens who do not get enough sleep, there is a strong correlation with depression, suicidal thoughts, poor impulse control, substance abuse and violent behavior. These tendencies in all ages begin to come into play with less than seven hours of sleep on a regular basis.

Studies have demonstrated how these changes start happening in healthy volunteers when they are sleep deprived for as little as four days in a row. It is very difficult to compensate for a regular nightly sleep debt. You cannot overcome this without changing the regular pattern of sleep. You cannot just “catch up on the weekend.”

An interesting fact about modern society is the more people drive a car daily, the less likely they are to get enough sleep. There is direct correlation between driving more than a total of 40 minutes a day and getting less sleep.

Since sleep is so profoundly important, what can you do to ensure a restful night of restorative sleep? Here are a few tips:

•  Adopt a regular routine at night and make it a priority to stick to it.
•  Go to bed at the same time week nights and on weekends.
•  Don’t take naps during the day unless you are really desperate.
•  A short 30-minute power nap can be a resource if you are sleep deprived to recharge; however, regular daytime naps are counterproductive to a good night of quality sleep.
•  Avoid caffeine, alcohol, a big meal or vigorous exercise in the evening.
•  Minimize your fluid consumption for 2-3 hours prior to bedtime.
•  Regular daytime exercise is an excellent tool for general conditioning and contributes to good sleep hygiene.
•  Use the bedroom for only sleep and sex – do not eat or watch TV in bed.
•  If you cannot fall asleep after 30 minutes, get up and go to another room. Do something relaxing like reading or taking a warm bath. Do not check your email or watch TV.

Invest in rest! It will pay big dividends. As the Irish proverb goes, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”

– Dr. Bruce Kaler

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