Self-Care Series Part 4: Sleep
By Rachel Parodneck, LMSW
Sleep is essential. It is a requirement to ensure our overall health, both mental and physical. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 7–19 percent of adults in the United States reported not getting enough rest or sleep every day.
How much is enough?
Experts recommend that adults over the age of 18 years old get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. You might be thinking to yourself, “there aren’t enough hours in the day, I don’t have time to sleep 8 hours a night!” By not sleeping enough, you are directly affecting the quality of your waking hours.
Sleep deprivation has some nasty side effects. Not only are you more likely to be in an irritable or depressed mood, your decision-making skills are impaired, meaning that extra time you spent at work is likely not going to be your best effort.
The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School explains: Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Scarily enough, sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.
What are the benefits of getting adequate, restful sleep?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists a slew of benefits those who get enough sleep can expect to enjoy:
- Get sick less often
- Stay at a healthy weight
- Lower your risk for serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease
- Reduce stress and improve your mood
- Think more clearly and do better in school and at work
- Get along better with people
- Make good decisions and avoid injuries – for example, sleepy drivers cause thousands of car accidents every year
So how do you get good sleep?
Developing good sleep hygiene is essential in building better sleep habits. The folks at Harvard Medical School say that there are a number of different methods to help you get enough sleep. In addition to getting a healthy balance of nutrition and exercise, their sleep recommendations include:
- maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule
- avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep
- making your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment
- establishing a calming pre-sleep routine
- going to sleep when you’re truly tired
- not watching the clock at night
- using light to your advantage by exposing yourself to light during the day and limiting light exposure in the evening
- not napping too close to your regular bedtime
- eating and drinking enough—but not too much or too soon before bedtime
- exercising regularly—but not too soon before bedtime
With these tips under your belt, you can start making sleep a priority. And in doing so, can reap the health benefits. This means operating at your optimal level while feeling good doing so.
Green, E. (June 22, 2020). No Sleepless Nights. Sleep Deprivation Experiments. Retrieved from: https://www.nosleeplessnights.com/sleep-deprivation-experiments/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. My Healthfinder. Get Enough Sleep. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/
National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. Retrieved from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency#:~:text=Sleep%20plays%20an%20important%20role,pressure%2C%20diabetes%2C%20and%20stroke.