By Poonam Sharma,
The Consequences of Inadequate Sleep
Although the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep, most of
us get by with very little sleep. The demands of work, children,
and managing our lives can make it hard to get the rest we need.
It can be challenging to ï¿½turn offï¿½ any worries we may have about
things such as medical problems, financial difficulties, or an ailing
marriage, when itï¿½s finally time to go to bed. The combination of
stress and lack of sleep can leave anyone feeling grumpy and impatient,
with little energy left to deal with the people and problems in
Research now shows that getting enough sleep is essential to
good health. Lack of sleep can actually make you vulnerable to infections
because sleep deprivation affects your immune system. Researchers
at the University of Chicago concluded that chronic lack of sleep
affects your hormonal and metabolic systems, sometimes accelerating
the onset and severity of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Other research has shown that insufficient sleep can actually increase
the odds of having a heart attack.
Impaired concentration, memory, and reaction times are other
consequences of poor sleep. Lack of sleep can be downright dangerous.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that
more than 100,000 vehicle crashes each year are caused by drivers
who fall asleep at the wheel.
Sleep time is essential for restoring your physical, mental,
and emotional energy. Without enough sleep, youï¿½re like a car thatï¿½s
low on gas. Take time to refuel and you will have much more energy
to embrace the challenges and opportunities of your life.
Tips for Improving Your Sleep
Many problems with sleep are actually caused by poor sleep habits.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to improve the
length and quality of your sleep. Try these tips from The National
Sleep Foundationï¿½s website (sleepfoundation.org) to help you get
a good nightï¿½s sleep:
1. Keep a regular sleep schedule. Our sleep-wake
cycle is regulated by a "circadian clock" in our brain
and the body's need to balance both sleep time and wake time.
That is also why it is important to keep a regular bedtime and wake-time,
even on the weekends when there is the temptation to sleep-in.
2. Avoid caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant,
which means it can produce an alerting effect. Caffeine products,
such as coffee, tea, colas and chocolate, remain in the body on
average from 3 to 5 hours, but they can affect some people up to
12 hours later. Even if you do not think caffeine affects you, it
may be disrupting and changing the quality of your sleep. Avoiding
caffeine within 6-8 hours of going to bed can help improve sleep
3. Avoid nicotine. Nicotine is also a stimulant.
Smoking before bed makes it more difficult to fall asleep. When
smokers go to sleep, they experience withdrawal symptoms from nicotine,
which also cause sleep problems. Nicotine can cause difficulty falling
asleep, problems waking in the morning, and may also cause nightmares.
Difficulty sleeping is just one more reason to quit smoking.
4. Avoid alcohol. Although many people think
of alcohol as a sleep aid because of its sedating effect, it actually
disrupts sleep, causing nighttime awakenings. Consuming alcohol
leads to a night of less restful sleep.
5. Don't eat or drink too much close to bedtime.
Eating or drinking too much may make you less comfortable when settling
down for bed. It is best to avoid a heavy meal too close to bedtime.
Also, spicy foods may cause heartburn, which leads to difficulty
falling asleep and discomfort during the night. Try to restrict
fluids close to bedtime to prevent nighttime awakenings to go to
the bathroom, though some people find milk or herbal, non-caffeinated
teas to be soothing and a helpful part of a bedtime routine.
6. Exercise at the right time promotes sleep.
In general, exercising regularly makes it easier to fall asleep
and contributes to sounder sleep. However, exercising sporadically
or right before going to bed will make falling asleep more difficult.
In addition to making us more alert, our body temperature rises
during exercise, and takes as much as 6 hours to begin to drop.
A cooler body temperature provides a signal that it is time to sleep.
Finish your exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime. Late afternoon
exercise is the perfect way to help you fall asleep at night.
7. Use relaxing bedtime rituals. A relaxing,
routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright
lights sends a signal to your body that it is almost time to go
to sleep and will make it easier to fall asleep. Avoid arousing
activities before bedtime like working, paying bills, engaging in
competitive games or family problem-solving activities. Try an activity
that is relaxing, such as soaking in a hot tub, reading or listening
to music, or having a massage. Some studies suggest that soaking
in hot water (such as a hot tub or bath) before retiring to bed
can ease the transition into deeper sleep, but it should be done
early enough that you are no longer sweating or over-heated. If
you are unable to avoid tension and stress, it may be helpful to
learn relaxation therapy from a trained professional.
8. Create a sleep-promoting environment. Design
your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for
sleep: cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and free of interruptions.
Also make your bedroom reflective of the value you place on sleep.
Check your room for noise or other distractions, including a bed
partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring, light, and a dry
or hot environment. Consider using blackout curtains, eyeshades,
earplugs, "white noise," humidifiers and other devices.
Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive ï¿½the one you
have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancyï¿½about
9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable
pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep, but
also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might
cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.
9. Associate your bed with sleep and sex only.
Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association
between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or
item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
For example, if looking at a bedroom clock makes you anxious about
how much time you have before you must get up, move the clock out
of sight. Do not engage in activities that cause you anxiety and
prevent you from sleeping.
10. Limit sleep time in bed. If you do not fall
asleep within 15-20 minutes of going to bed and turning out the
lights, it is best to get out of bed and do another relaxing activity
until you are feeling sleepy again. If anxiety about something you
need to do prevents you from sleeping, it is sometimes helpful to
jot down notes in a "worry" or "to do" book.
Nap during the day only when needed to maintain alertness and plan
on napping 20-30 minutes.
Poonam Sharma, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and life coach
in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Sharma helps people improve their
health, find balance in their lives, and achieve their most
important personal and professional goals. Poonam Sharma, Ph.D.
may be contacted at