Dear Sleep, I’m sorry…
“Dear Sleep, I’m sorry we broke up. Please come back!”- Unknown
I’ve been feeling sleep deprived lately despite my best efforts to get more sleep. My schedule this past week has been ridiculous. I’ve been a little off-kilter and my sleep has been suffering because of it.
The National Sleep Foundation’s panel of experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep for adults between 18 to 64 years old. Whoa! Even though I try to aim for at least 7 hours of sleep, I’m lucky most days if I’m able to get up to 6 hours. Between obligations at work, church and family, it isn’t always easy to get the amount of sleep needed for my body to function optimally.
So why is sleep so important and what are some things we can do to get better quality sleep? I’m going to answer these questions below.
HEALTHY BRAIN FUNCTION AND MENTAL HEALTH
I won’t bore you by going into the technicalities of the different stages of sleep. However, I will say that when you sleep, it gives your body and brain a chance to restore themselves. I know when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m much more forgetful, grumpy and a lot more emotional than usual.
According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), studies show that getting quality sleep helps your brain form new pathways that help you learn and remember information. When you’re sleep deficient, it may be more challenging to control emotions and behavior, adapting to change, and you may have a slower reaction time and make more mistakes. Getting quality sleep helps with mental alertness and overall mood.
IMPROVEMENT OF PHYSICAL HEALTH
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can cause poor physical health. It is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke to name a few. Quality sleep helps to balance your hunger hormone (Ghrelin) and the hormone that lets you know you’re full (Leptin). When these two are out of balance, it can lead to big problem with your physical health.
Think about it, how many times have you been sleep deprived, which resulted in poor decision making with what to eat? We’ve all been there, tired, sleepy and trying to get work done at the office. So you eat food that’s high in sugar or unhealthy fat and just chomp it down in an effort to stay awake. This promotes obesity, thereby leading to some of the complications I mentioned earlier.
Quality sleep prevents drowsy driving, which has been shown to be similar to driving drunk. I’m not proud to say it but I’ve been guilty of this many times.
Back in my pharmacy residency days, I remember while I was doing my ICU rotation, I had to be in the hospital by 4 am. There was one particular morning, where all I remember was getting into my car and driving and somehow, by God’s grace I realized I was in the parking garage of the hospital. I don’t remember much of the 40 minute drive from my house. All I recall was at some point I turned the radio to the loudest because I kept falling asleep at the wheel.
Even now thinking back on that day, I shudder at the thought of hurting myself or worse, someone else if I was in an accident! Thankfully, that wasn’t the case but I’m telling you this story because this actually happens all to often to many of us.
The sad part about sleep deficiency is most people, including myself think we can function well without issues. However, it’s been demonstrated that even a loss of sleep of 1-2 hours per night over several nights affects your ability to function as if you haven’t slept for a whole day or two, and that’s alarming!
What’s even more shocking is according to the NHLBI, studies show it’s estimated that driver sleepiness is a factor in about 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths. Yikes! that’s a scary statistic.
HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP HABITS?
Before discussing strategies for better sleep, it’s important to mention that some people are not getting enough sleep because of certain conditions such like:
Acid Reflux/Heartburn at night. If this happening to you, then here are some strategies you could try to prevent it:
- Don’t eat within 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Avoid spicy food as much as you can, particularly at dinner time
- Stay away from acidic food like orange juice, grapefruit, tomatoes, etc.
- Limit greasy fried food
- Avoid carbonated drinks and alcohol, which can trigger reflux particularly at night
- Eat smaller portions throughout the day
This is a condition where the upper airway becomes repeatedly blocked, which either slows down breathing or causes it to temporarily stop for several moments at a time at night.
If you think you have sleep apnea, you need to let you physician know so you can be referred for a sleep study and possibly prescribed a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine to help with your breathing at night.
If you think you have insomnia, try some of the good sleep hygiene strategies listed below. If they still don’t work, then you can inform your Physician to determine options that may be best for you.
One thing to note is many over the counter sleep aids contain an active ingredient called diphenhydramine. Sometimes this is combined with pain relievers. There’s little evidence that shows that diphenhydramine improve insomnia, and it can cause next day drowsiness. Routine use of this agent is not recommended for insomnia.
Another common drug that’s found over the counter is Melatonin, which is a hormone that is naturally secreted by your body but it is also available as a pill. Regular use is not recommended for the treatment of insomnia in most patients but it appears to be safe though when used short term.
GOOD SLEEP HYGEINE
Sleep hygiene are habits or routines you have that either improve or worsen the quality of your sleep. Everyone should practice good sleep hygiene regardless of whether you have sleep complications or not. These are some good sleep hygiene tips below:
- Sleep and wake up at the same time everyday, even on weekends if you can.
- Turn off sources of artificial light from phones, TVs, or computers 30 mins to 1 hour before bedtime because the blue light that these devices emit can affect the quality of your sleep
- Avoid strenuous activity or heavy meals at least an hour before bedtime
- Avoid sources of caffeine such as tea, coffee, carbonated beverages and chocolate, yes!, chocolate. Chocolate contains caffeine which can be problematic for people who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine. I try to make sure I cut off all sources of caffeine by 3 pm and switch to herbal tea instead.
- Meditate for 10-15 mins before bedtime
- Take a warm bath to relax you
- Use ear plugs if necessary if you happen to live with roommates who may be noisy in the mornings
- Use a sleep mask if needed to block out natural light to prevent you from waking up earlier than usual, especially in the summer months.
Prioritize your health by ensuring you get quality sleep everyday. It makes a huge difference. If you like this post and want more like it about wellness, click here
What habits are getting in your way of getting good, quality sleep?
Written by simplyfunmi