According to the Harvard School of Public Health “Nutrition, exercise, and sleep are the three pillars of good health”, but while nutrition and exercise get a lot of press, sleep isn’t mentioned nearly as often. Think about yourself, “Did you get 7 or 8 hours of sleep each of the last couple nights?” I know that I didn’t. So why should we be concerned about sleep and our health?
First let’s think about why we need sleep:
- During sleep our body produces valuable hormones and chemicals are replaced.
- Our brain is reenergized and repaired during sleep.
- Our immune system increases our resistance to infections during sleep – which may prevent a cold or the flu.
- Cells, tissues, and muscles are repaired during sleep.
- Adequate sleep improves our mood and relationships with others.
- Our thinking process is improved and we react more quickly with proper sleep.
Fatigue from lack of sleep can contribute to a number of serious health problems including: heart disease or heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, stroke, irregular heartbeat, and even an increased risk of breast cancer. Other risks associated with a lack of sleep include workplace and traffic accidents – studies show that 1 of 6 traffic accidents are due to falling asleep at the wheel. Workplace tiredness is reportedly causing US industries over $100 billion each year as well.
Tips for getting better sleep:
- Avoid caffeine for about 6 hours before bedtime. This stimulant takes that long to work its way through your system.
- Alcohol and nicotine are also stimulants to avoid close to bedtime. They will disrupt sleep and cause awakening.
- Exercise regularly, but not close to bedtime. Exercise will raise your body temperature and cooler body temperature is associated with better sleep.
- Avoid using electronics, which stimulate the brain, close to bed time. This includes TV’s, cellphones, e-readers, and computers.
- Move your pets out of your bedroom – they disrupt your sleep with noise and movements.
- Maintain a regular bed and wake time, even on weekends.
To improve your sleep and your health avoid using sleeping pills and create a bedroom that encourages sleep. To do this: move the TV out, get a comfortable pillow, put a note pad by the bed for jotting down ideas, make sure your room is dark and cool – which may mean you need to move the night light or alarm clock, don’t snack in bed, and most important – use your bedroom for sleep and sex – not a bunch of other things.
American Psychological Association, http://www.apa.org/.
Wellness Council of America, http://www.welcoa.org.
WebMD, Coping With Excessive Sleepiness. 10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss, http://webmd.com/.
Progressive Insurance, Workplace accidents prevention and tiredness, http://www.progressiveic.com.
The Harvard School of Public Health, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Your Guide to Healthy Sleep, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sleep.
Written by: Lisa Barlage, Patricia Brinkman, and Jenny Even, Ohio State University Extension, Family & Consumer Sciences Educators.