“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” sang singer-songwriter Warren Zevon. So did Bon Jovi and The Cure and other bands. Sleepy? That’s what’s caffeine (and other stimulants) are for, right?
Wrong—although caffeine can be a useful tool. Also, the dead don’t sleep.
Furthermore, your health, well-being, and your very life depend on adequate sleep. The average person needs about 8 hours. You know you’ve gotten enough when you awake feeling refreshed and can stay alert through the day.
Unfortunately, more than one in three Americans fail to get enough sleep. The consequences are dire. Let’s start with death. Routinely sleeping less than 7 hours or more than 9 hours a night increases mortality rates. That’s because sleep disturbance has widespread effects on the body.
Chronic sleep deprivation impairs immune function, raises susceptibility to infection, stirs up inflammation, and aggravates inflammatory conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. It contributes to top causes of death, namely cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Night-shift workers may be at elevated risk for some cancers, notably breast cancer.
Oh, did I mention that short and long sleepers tend to gain weight? Being overweight and obese fuels chronic, life-robbing illnesses.
The sleepless also cause accidents, which lead to injuries and deaths. In one survey, almost 5 percent of Americans admitted to falling asleep at the wheel. Sleep loss can impair driving on par with alcoholic intoxication.
Poor sleep erodes mental and physical performance. Work productivity tanks; absenteeism goes up. Mood sours. Minor hassles become intolerable. Mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression may surface. Sleep disturbance is also a sign of anxiety and depression.
Take-home message: Take sleep seriously. What better time to start than National Sleep Awareness Week? The following simple strategies set the stage for healthy sleep.
1. Establish regular bedtimes and wake-up times–with shuteye to feel good the next day.
2. Create a cozy bedroom environment. Block outside light with window shades. Cover light-emitting electronic devices, including clocks. Silence your phone.
3. Use your bed for sex and sleep only. Don’t argue, pay bills, do homework, check email, text, watch TV, or anything else.
4. Limit naps to 30 minutes once a day. That said, naps definitely increase work productivity.
5. Drink only in moderation or not at all. Stop within a few hours of bedtime. Alcohol, though may help people fall asleep, tends to interfere with sleep later in the night.
6. Chill on the caffeine. It takes about five hours to clear half the caffeine you consume from your system, longer if you take hormonal contraceptives or are pregnant.
7. Keep a worry pad by your bed. If you fret in bed, jot it down. Tell yourself you’ll deal with it the morning. Replace that thought with something you feel grateful about.
8. Create soothing bedtime routines. Take a warm bath, plus or minus 10 drops of lavender essential oil (dispersed with your fingertips before you step in). Stretch. Meditate. Practice slow, deep breathing–four counts on the inhalation, four on the exhalation.
9. Try progressive muscle relaxation. Lie on your back. Sequentially tense and relax muscle groups: toes, feet, calves, thighs, buttocks, belly, back, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, cheeks and forehead. Scrunch your whole body into a ball. Lie back. Let go, appreciating the feel of relaxed muscles.
10. Visualize tranquility. When I can’t sleep, I picture a particular beach in great sensory detail. I see an aquamarine ocean and azure sky, smell seaweed, hear waves lapping and palm fronds clapping, feel warm sand and sun.
11. Remember that a period of middle-of-the night wakefulness is normal. Stay calm. If you don’t fall back to sleep soon, get out of bed. Do something boring until you feel sleepy.
12. If you have persistent sleep problems, tell your doctor. A variety of treatments can relieve insomnia. Examples include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction,yoga, and herbs such as valerian and hops.
For more ideas, pick up a copy of 500 TIME-TESTED HOME REMEDIES AND THE SCIENCE BEHIND THEM.
Photo Credit: Rembrandt’s “A Young Woman Sleeping,” Wikimedia Commons