The new year is almost here. Why not a new you?!
Every year, millions of people enter the new year with goals of being healthier. But why does it seem that majority of time, the word “health” has a limited association with losing weight by exercising and eating cleaner? Personally, my health goal this year? - get more sleep!
"Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together."
- Thomas Dekker
Getting good sleep is highly underrated. As a life-long night-owl and unfortunate light sleeper who rarely seems to wake up feeling completely refreshed, I have a lot of room for improvement. And I’m not alone. More than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis (7 or more hours per day), according to a recent study in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Right now, it’s rare that I wake up after having a solid night’s sleep. However, on the occasional full night of sleep that I do get – I feel fantastic! My goal is to experience that more.
The health benefits of consistently getting good sleep are astonishing – at least, so I hear.
Some benefits of getting good sleep include:
- Improved memory. Your mind still remains active while you sleep. During sleep, you can strengthen memories or “practice” skills learned while you were awake.
- Longevity. In a 2010 study of women ages 50 to 79, more deaths occurred in women who got less than five hours.
- Curbed inflammation. Research indicates that people who get less sleep—six or fewer hours a night—have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more.
- Enhanced creativity. In addition to consolidating memories, or making them stronger, your brain appears to reorganize and restructure them, which may result in more creativity as well.
- Winning! A Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina.
- Improved grades. Studies have shown a positive correlation with hours of sleep and better grades.
- Sharpened attention/ more alertness. A 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics found that children ages seven and eight who got less than about eight hours of sleep a night were more likely to be hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive.
- Healthy weight. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat—56% of their weight loss—than those who were sleep deprived, who lost more muscle mass.
- Lower stress. When it comes to our health stress and sleep are nearly one and the same—and both can affect cardiovascular health.
- Reduced accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2009 that being tired accounted for the highest number of fatal single-car run-off-the-road crashes due to the driver’s performance—even more than alcohol!
- Decreased risk of depression. Going into the new year, this benefit will be essential for beating the cold-weather blues. The shorter days and lack of sunshine can really bring a negative effect in the later months of winter.
That all sounds great, right? But how? Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good sleep hygiene. Old habits die hard. Now that we know why
we should get better sleep, integrating even just a few of these sleep practices into your routine will get you results:
- No electronics 1 hour before bed. The light emitted by your electronic screens halt the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.
- Layoff the sweets. Eating late at night will initially raise your blood sugar. If you eat before sleeping, you are more likely to experience a crash in blood sugar while asleep.
- Exercise earlier in the day. Vigorous exercise should be done in the morning or late afternoon, at least three hours before bedtime. Because cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep onset, it’s important to allow the body time to cool off before sleep.
- Set alarm reminders. Instead of dwelling on your thoughts all night, write down what’s on your mind and save it for tomorrow. Setting alarm reminders can also take the stress off and let you worry about it tomorrow.
- Make sleep goals. Strive to get to bed by a certain time that will allow yourself to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
- Keep a sleep diary. Learn about your sleep patterns and habits by keeping a daily sleep diary.
- Go to bed when you’re tired. Fun fact – we are the only mammals that willingly delay sleep. Pushing yourself to stay up later when the body feels tired might result in a temporary energy boost, but you won't feel so good the next day if you wait for a late-night burst of energy.