According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. Though it varies based on a person’s age, lifestyle and health history, experts recommend adults ages 18 to 60 get at least seven (and no more than nine) hours of shut eye every night. Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule helps the body rest and restore while lowering the risk of chronic conditions.
The Impact of Poor Sleep
More than 50 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder of some kind. Insomnia is the most common; however, others include sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy and REM sleep behavior disorder. Some short and long-term effects an irregular sleep schedule can have on the mind and body include:
· Decreased Performance: Energy levels, memory and focus are all affected by how much or little sleep a person is getting. Believe it or not, poor sleep can decrease brain function and physical performance in the same way that alcohol does.
· Higher Risk of Chronic Illness: Proper rest helps regulate an individual’s blood sugar, hormone and blood pressure levels among other factors that impact a person’s physical and mental health. Deficient sleep has been linked to various chronic conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
· Poor Immune Health: Sleep impacts the body’s ability to fight bacterial infections, so those who get little to none on a regular basis may find themselves getting sick more often. Similarly, the pace at which a virus resolves itself is affected by the quality of rest a person is getting.
· Poor Mental Health: A good night’s sleep helps build mental and emotional resilience for the day ahead. The risk of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder is higher for individuals who experience disruptive or irregular sleep.
· Weight Gain: Lack of sleep can increase a person’s appetite while decreasing energy levels, which often leads to a cycle of overeating and/or infrequent exercise. With proper rest comes the physical and mental motivation it takes to make healthy choices every day.
Tips to Get a Better Night’s Rest
Whether a person is managing a sleep disorder or simply looking to improve his/her daily regimen, consider some of these practical, everyday strategies:
· Set an Internal Clock: A consistent sleep schedule helps the mind and body adjust to waking up and winding down. Creating a routine each day that alerts the body when it’s time to go to bed is a great place to start. Reading, yoga and guided meditation have all been shown to lower stress and improve sleep quality.
· Exercise Daily: The National Sleep Foundation reports that at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week can result in better sleep. Regularly making time for a workout can also prolong the amount of time a person experiences “deep sleep,” the most physically restorative phase of rest.
· Avoid Screens: Research shows that the blue light emitted from phones and computers suppresses the production of melatonin more than any other kind of light. Limiting exposure to blue light 30 to 60 minutes before bed time can improve the quality of sleep a person gets, so make a point of putting away electronics before bedtime.
· Change Nightly Eating Habits: There is a distinct relationship between a person’s diet and how they sleep. In fact, those who make healthier eating choices throughout the day are more likely to sleep longer and more soundly. In the hours leading up to bedtime, be sure to avoid stimulates that wake the brain, including sugar and caffeine.