Sleep is a basic human need that is essential to your well being. However, many of us neglect this important aspect of our health and scrimp on getting enough shut eye.
Benefits of Sleep
According to Frank Biscardi, M.D., medical director of Carilion Clinic's Sleep Centers, we don’t really know why we need to sleep, but we do know that not getting enough sleep can make just getting through the day extremely difficult. When you don’t get enough sleep, it can affect your memory, your problem-solving skills, your creativity and make you irritable and unable to concentrate. If you are consistently not getting enough sleep, your body can go into what Dr. Biscardi calls sleep debt.
“Sleep is like money and when you don’t have enough for your expenses, then you go into debt, and you have that added pressure on your body to fall asleep,” he explained.
If you are in sleep debt, you might find yourself feeling drowsy when you are driving or unable to concentrate on complicated issues or tasks. A lack of sleep can also negatively affect your blood sugar levels and raise your blood pressure. The amount of sleep you need can vary, but most people need from six to eight hours of sleep per night to avoid going into debt.
Many of us might have an occasional night when we toss and turn, but if you are persistently having trouble getting enough sleep, you might be a troubled sleeper.
“If you are having problems functioning during the day, if you sleep a reasonable amount of time and wake up still tired, or you consistently have problems either going to sleep or staying asleep, that is a real sign that you have a problem,” Dr. Biscardi said.
Improving Your Sleep
The key to improving your sleep is to maintain what Dr. Biscardi calls “sleep hygiene.” Try some of these tips to help improve your sleep:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule by getting up and going to bed at the same time.
- Limit time in bed to eight hours, unless you are ill, and don’t take naps during the day.
- Use your bedroom for sleeping only, and make sure it is quiet, cool and dark.
- Avoid screen time before bed. The light from televisions, smart phones and tablets can delay the beginning of your natural sleep cycle.
- Avoid exercise within four hours of bedtime.
- Avoid eating (a light snack is OK) or drinking large amounts within three hours of bedtime, and don’t drink caffeine after noon.
- No alcohol or cigarettes within four to six hours of bedtime.
- Relax before bedtime and avoid doing work.
- If you can’t sleep, go to another room and engage in a quiet, relaxing or boring activity until you feel sleepy.
If you think you might have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor. A good night's sleep is closer than you think.