As we approach mid-summer, increased hours of daylight and rising temperatures have the potential to impact the quality of your sleep. Getting good sleep every night is essential for a multitude of reasons – some very well known and some less so.
Certainly, lack of sleep impacts mood, but it also impacts cognitive functioning. We also know that sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can put one at risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and even diabetes. It is believed that 90% of people with insomnia also have another health condition.
Lack of sleep also decreases sex drive, impacts memory, increases appetite (leading to weight gain) and can even impact one’s skin. When sleep is insufficient, the body releases more cortisol (the stress hormone) which can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.
Further, sleep loss inhibits the release of HGH (human growth hormone), which is essential for increasing muscle mass and strengthening bones. As Dr. Phil Gehrman of the University of Pennsylvania points out, sleep is “part of normal tissue repair — patching the wear and tear of the day.”
To maintain optimal physical and emotional health, good sleep hygiene is essential.
Most sleep experts recommend that we get about eight hours of sleep every night (some believe that eight hours and fifteen minutes is best). To help achieve this, it is strongly recommended that regular sleeping and waking hours be observed (even on weekends).
And while maintaining a good exercise regimen is essential for overall health, avoiding vigorous exercise just before bed will help produce more restful sleep.
Also, while you should avoid a heavy meal late in the day, having a small carbohydrate (a couple of crackers) just before bed will help with getting to sleep and staying asleep.
Further, the National Sleep Foundation warns against taking naps and consuming caffeine late in the day.
Dr. Ruben Naiman, of the University of Arizona, warns against the impact that antidepressants and other medications can have on sleep. Antidepressants, for example, induce steady serotonin production both day and night, but melatonin (produced by the pineal gland) is what is needed during sleeping hours. If you are on any medication and experiencing sleep disturbance, talk with your doctor about your options.
Perhaps the best thing for sleep is to consider how we think about sleep. Considering that sleep impacts every area of our lives (our choices, our moods, our ability to think clearly, our very health), it may be well to give it the respect that it deserves.
We usually honor the most important things in our lives (such as graduations, weddings, baptisms, funerals) with ritual. We need to do the same with sleep, recognizing that it signifies both an ending and a beginning and that it provides the very essence that we need to go on. An established bedtime ritual, observed in the same fashion every night, will help us preserve this most basic of human needs.