Why slumber is good for you—and how to get the best rest

Would you love to wake up each day feeling amazingly refreshed and ready for whatever comes your way? When you make sleep a priority, you’re likelier to achieve that aim. But that’s not all. Getting the proper amount of sleep is best for a healthy body and brain. And yet, despite these benefits, we don’t always make enough time for sleep. Or we may struggle to get a good night’s rest—often due to habits we can change. Read on to learn more about the importance of sleep and how to get enough of the rest you need.

8 ways to improve your snooze

If you’re not getting enough restful slumber, try this first: Make sure you’re going to bed early enough to get the right amount of rest.

It might also help to give these sleep tricks a try:

  1. Try to go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day, even on weekends.
  2. Wind down in the evening. About an hour before bed, avoid bright lights and loud sounds, like your TV or computer.
  3. Don’t eat heavy meals within a couple hours of your bedtime. A light snack is OK.
  4. Skip late-afternoon lattes (or any other caffeinated beverages). That caffeine buzz can linger up to eight hours.
  5. Move it to snooze it. Getting regular exercise can help you sleep better—as long as you’re not exercising too close to bedtime, which can have the opposite effect.
  6. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Some ideas: Take a warm bath, listen to soothing music or read a book.
  7. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark (a dim nightlight is OK) and at a comfortable temperature (somewhat cool is best).
  8. Limit naps to 20 minutes.

Tell your doctor if you’re still tired even though you’ve tried things, like the above steps, to improve your sleep.

Need more sleep? Put your rest to the test

You might get by on less sleep than you need for a while. But lost hours of sleep—your sleep debt—will eventually catch up with you. As a result, you might not function your best at work, home or school.

You may be sleep deficient if you can check off any of the following boxes:

  • You don’t feel refreshed and alert in the morning after sleeping.
  • You often feel very tired.
  • Your find it hard to focus or think clearly.
  • You take longer to get things done or make mistakes.
  • You fall asleep easily at times when you should be awake, such as while sitting and reading, watching TV, or sitting still in a movie theater or meeting.
  • You sleep more on your days off from work than you do otherwise.

Some people who feel very tired during the day might have a sleep disorder called insomnia. Other signs of insomnia include taking 30 minutes or more to fall asleep, waking up and having trouble returning to sleep, and waking up too early.

Restful (essential) sleep

Sleeping is how you rest. But it’s also how your body reboots.

While you sleep, your brain is busy forming pathways that help you learn and remember things. Also, your body heals and repairs itself while you snooze.

It’s no wonder then that regularly skimping on shuteye can harm your physical and mental well-being. For example, too little sleep may:

  • Raise your risk for chronic health problems, like heart disease, diabetes, stroke and depression.
  • Upset the balance of hunger hormones in your body, causing you to overeat. Being sleep deficient raises your risk for obesity.
  • Put you—or others—in danger. Our reaction times are slower, and we’re less alert when we’re sleepy. As a result, driving a car or operating machinery when drowsy can result in deadly accidents.
  • Mess with your moods, prompting angry outbursts or increasing your risk for mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression.
  • Weaken your immune system, making you more prone to colds and other common infections.

In short, skimping on shuteye may make you sick, overweight, cranky and tired.

On the night shift?

Shift work can make getting a good day’s rest challenging. One thing that might help: Consider light-blocking curtains that darken your bedroom.

Sleep by the numbers

24 Your body clock, which regulates when you feel sleepy and awake, follows a 24-hour cycle.

2 There are 2 basic kinds of sleep. You experience REM sleep (when most dreaming occurs) and non-REM sleep in stages that repeat several times a night.

40% Nearly 40 percent of adults report that at least once a month, they fall asleep during the day without meaning to.

100,000 About 100,000 car crashes each year are caused in part by drowsy driving.

35% Up to 35 percent of adults have insomnia (a sometimes chronic condition).

How much sleep is enough?

Our sleep needs change with age, and they even vary a little person to person. But in general, here’s what sleep experts recommend.

Infants: 12 to 16 hours (including naps)

Children ages 1 to 2: 11 to 14 hours (including naps)

Children ages 3 to 5: 10 to 13 hours (including naps)

Children ages 6 to 12: 9 to 12 hours

Teens ages 13 to 18: 8 to 10 hours

Adults: 7 to 8 hours

Lights out, sleepyhead

Have you ever woken up at night, switched on a bright light to do something briefly and then found you couldn’t get back to sleep? The light that entered your eyes told your internal body clock it was daytime—which told your brain to wake up.

 

Sources: American Academy of Sleep Medicine; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

© Coffey Communications, Inc.