Wellness Wednesday: sleep

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

In law school, it seemed like lack of sleep was a badge of competence.  I've always wanted to be someone who was ultra productive, one of the folks who needed fewer hours of sleep.  But, the reality is that I'm not.  I recently read that if you always fall asleep within five minutes of hitting the pillow, it's likely a sign that you're sleep-deprived, not a sign that you're a great sleeper.  I'm in that category.

When I lived by myself, I had a lot of control and seemed to be able to get myself to sleep around 10 p.m. most of the time.  Now that I live with A, I aim for 11 p.m., but many nights, I'll wander into bed at 11, and he, on lucky days, take that as a cue to start getting ready for bed, walking the dog, turning off videogames, brushing teeth.  For some reason, I can't seem to get myself to go to sleep without a goodnight hug, so I hang out, waiting for him.  I get my hug and then clonk over.  The morning comes all too quickly.

What happens while we're sleeping?
Interestingly, sleep is not a passive state.  Our body goes through different phases while we sleep and the different phases have different purposes and effects.  For example, during REM sleep, our brain can be just as active as it is when we're awake and our many of our vital signs are variable as they are during waking hours.  During other periods of sleep, however, our temp, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and glucose (unless we're diabetic) tend to remain stable in a way they don't during the day.

Are you getting enough sleep?
Everyone knows on average, we need about 8 hours.  But, this varies some and our bodies are tricky!  Okay, they're impressive and adaptive.  We all have different ideal times to sleep and different ideal amounts.  Our body also adjusts to our schedule.  Our sleep history can actually change our sleep patterns and cause our body to redistribute our sleep stages.  This redistribution may allow us to keep living on less sleep, but it seems to me that given how important sleep is for the body, and the research showing long-term health consequences of less sleep, that even though we may feel as if we've adapted, our body isn't reaping all the benefits it should be from sleep.

And if I don't get enough sleep?
I'm not a perfect example of any of this, but the more I read up on sleep, the more I realize that I need to give myself the chance of a full 8-hours of rest.  According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, a lack of sleep slowly sneaks up on you in the form of serious medical consequences:

  •  Obesity
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Decreased immune system functioning, and even
  • Common cold
How can I improve my sleep?
Okay, so, you get it, sleep is important, but how do you get into a healthy sleep state?  Well, just like anything else, we get what we put into life.  The first requirement is that you have to make sleep a priority and make time for it.  After that, some basic tips are:
  • Maintain a consistent schedule
  • Exercise
  • Eat healthfully and finish 2-3 hours before sleeping
  • Sleep in a dark, cool (but not cold) place
  • Avoid the television, computer screen, or anything too stressful a few hours before sleeping
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol near bedtime
My biggest issue is prioritizing, so that will be my new goal for the next week!

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