While we may not often consider sleep essential, it is as necessary for our bodies as air and food. Lack of sleep affects us at all ages. Growth hormones that increase a child or teen’s muscle mass and that repair cells are released during sleep. For humans of any age, cognitive abilities suffer from lack of sleep, making us prone to accidents and mishaps. Lack of sleep has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.
The good news is that sleeping is a habit and everyone can learn better habits with some structure and a little bit of effort. Harvard University offers the following suggestions:
- maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule (wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends)
- avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep
- make your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment
- establish a calming pre-sleep routine
- go to sleep when you’re truly tired
- avoid watching the clock at night
- use light to your advantage by exposing yourself to light during the day and limiting light exposure in the evening, this helps regulate your natural circadian rhythms
- avoid napping too close to your regular bedtime
- eat and drink enough—but not too much or too soon before bedtime
- exercise regularly—but not too soon before bedtime
Most of these ideas are self-explanatory, but a pre-sleep routine is worth examining closely. A pre-sleep routine is different for every person. Reading, crossword puzzles, knitting are all good “transition” activities from daily life to sleep. These transition activities should be done prior to climbing into bed, in a calm, comfortable room in your home.
Keep your bed as a place for sleeping, not reading, watching TV or answering email. Sleep experts recommend no TV or electronic gadgets in your bedroom. This allows your mind to rest and helps you to fall asleep faster. Also, screens on our electronic devices emit blue light, which reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that controls our circadian rhythm, the cycles that help us fall asleep and stay asleep. In addition to the blue light, cell phones and gadgets often beep, tweet or buzz throughout the night, which prevents you from a restful sleep. A technology curfew is helpful to sleepers of all ages.
Getting Enough Sleep
How much sleep is enough? The answer is it depends. For children, check with your pediatrican for recommendations on how many hours your child should be sleeping. For adults, most people need at least seven hours. To find out what your body needs, start getting seven hours of sleep a night, and after three or four weeks, take inventory on how you feel. Still tired? Add a half hour and take inventory again. Continue until you typically feel rested most of the time.
The need for sleep is often seen as a weakness in American culture. In truth, it is an essential element to human existence. Ensure that you are making the time for the wonderful necessity of sleep.