Tag: <span>Sleep Hygiene</span>

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Sleep? Who has time for that?

The average human spends about one third of their life either trying to sleep or actually sleeping. By age 80, you will have spent about 26 years in bed. As humans we spend a lot of time sleeping. But, we still don’t fully understand why we need sleep in the first place. What we do know is that getting too little of it can have devastating consequences. We also know that people struggling with the following conditions report having difficulty either falling or staying asleep:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Chronic Pain
  • And many other health conditions

It’s Sleep Awareness Week and Dr. Antler has studied this necessity for almost a decade, so we thought it would be a great time to help you understand:

  • What is it
  • Why we think we need it
  • What happens when we don’t get enough of it
  • What we can do to improve it

What is sleep?

Sleep is defined as a naturally recurring state of altered consciousness during which we experience reduced muscle and sensory activity. Sleep impacts almost every type of system and tissue within the body. There are four stages that fall into two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM. Stages 1 through 3 are all non-REM sleep.

  • Stage 1: The first few minutes after you fall asleep; a light sleep with the slowing of your heart rate, eye movements and breath
  • Stage 2: Body more fully relaxes and brain activity slows. Most time is spent in this stage.
  • Stage 3: Deep sleep; body is most relaxed; brain slows further and it’s hardest to wake
  • Stage 4: REM sleep; starts about 90 minutes after you fall asleep; most dreaming occurs during this stage; eyes move rapidly and brain activity is close to waking levels; muscles become temporarily paralyzed (we don’t want to act out our dreams!); heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing increase

Usually, people pass through stages 1 through 3 before entering stage four and this cycle, which usually takes 1-2 hours, is repeated three to four times every night. There are many biological processes involved in sleep. Since we don’t have time to go into that here, if you are interested in learning about these processes, you can find more detailed information from the National Institute of Health. Now that we know what it is, let’s see why we need it and what happens when we don’t get enough of it!

Why do we need it?

Scientists still aren’t entirely sure why we need to sleep and research in this area is still an evolving field. That said, recent studies suggest that it may play a housekeeping role in the brain. This includes removing toxins that build up while you are awake, which promotes better functioning the next day. Other studies have found that sleep may be important to our ability to remember information. Specifically, it allows our brains to process and encode information we’ve taken in during the day. Then, helps us to store that information in our long-term memory for retrieval later. Have you ever struggled to remember things from the previous day after you didn’t sleep well the night before? Poor sleep might be the cause. Though we aren’t certain about why we need sleep, we know a lot about what happens when we don’t get enough of it.

What happens when we don’t get enough of it?

Many people think they must get 8 hours of sleep. However, the range most people fall in is more like 6-10 hours. When we’re younger, we tend to need more. Babies sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours a day, whereas children over 5 and teens need 8-11 hours a night. As we age, our need for sleep decreases, with people over 65 sometimes needing as little as 5-6 hours. Whatever our personal sleep requirement, when we don’t get enough of it we call that sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation has been extensively researched and the impact it has on your health and functioning might surprise you. When we sleep just a few hours less per night for only a few nights in a row people:

  • Are less able to attend to information
  • Have less ability to complete puzzles or various tasks
  • Struggle to remember information
  • Have difficulty regulating emotions

Beyond just impacting your day-to-day activities, it’s also been shown that losing just a few hours of sleep repeatedly is associated with:

  • Cardiovascular issues and other physiological changes
  • Impairment in weightlifting performance
  • More susceptible to illness due to changes in immune markers

There are many studies that have demonstrated the negative impact of sleep loss, but luckily for us, there are also many studies that have looked at how we can make sure we get the sleep we need.

What can we do to improve our sleep?

Not only can improving our sleep help us to avoid the negative consequences of sleep deprivation, improving our sleep can have a positive effect on our mental health, physical health, and even our athletic performance. So what are some things that you can do to improve your sleep?

One is to practice sleep hygiene. Having good sleep hygiene means everything from setting up a good sleep environment to engaging in daily routines that promote healthy sleep patterns. Some simple things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene include:

  • Set and stick to your sleep schedule (both sleep and wake times)
  • Create and follow a nightly routine
  • Avoid activating things (i.e., large meals, bright light, exercise, caffeine, etc.) in the few hours before bed
  • Restrict in-bed activity to only sleep and sex
  • Ensure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow
  • Keep bedroom at a cool temperature (around 65°F)
  • Block out noise and light

Improving sleep hygiene can help some people improve their overall quality of sleep, yet research suggests that the most effective way to improve sleep quality is through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). By combining CBT techniques with mindfulness, relaxation, and sleep hygiene, we help patients to change the way they think about, engage with, and actually sleep. The end result is usually better sleep and better overall physical and mental health! In honor of Sleep Awareness Week, we challenge you to choose one of the sleep hygiene techniques above and implement it throughout this week. Sweet dreams!