A Body at Rest: The Importance of Sleep
5/7/2012 11:21:00 AM
If you’re like me, you reach the end of your day and still have things you want to do before going to bed. I used to stay up until 12 or 1 a.m. every night and then had to drag myself out of bed the next morning at the last possible minute. I probably averaged 6 hours of sleep a night back then.
Then I read an article that explained that adequate sleep — which is 7-9 hours per night — is not only vital for optimal productivity, it also plays a critical role in preventing disease. In fact, research shows that insufficient sleep (less than 7 hours per night) contributes to a greater risk of depression and anxiety, increased risk of heart disease and cancer, impaired memory, reduced immune system functioning, weight gain and a greater likelihood of accidents. Who knew?
Most surprising of all was the fact that a lack of sleep actually made me less productive, no matter how many tasks I crammed into my waking hours. The quality with which I performed those tasks and the satisfaction I got from doing them were both greatly reduced as my days became long “to do” lists, accomplishing much but meaning very little. I never got a break from feeling overwhelmed with how much there was to do, and would keep myself fueled on caffeine just to get through every day.
I know I’m not alone because I don’t know anyone who feels like they actually have enough hours in the day. And the more technology we introduce into our lives, the more accessible we are, which keeps us overstimulated with still more unread emails to get through. I don’t know about you, but I need a break from the calls, texts, emails, tasks, goals, chores, friend requests, invitations, questions, plans and work. I now look forward to my 8 hours of sleep like it’s a welcomed refuge through which I can turn everything off, unplug and find a little peace. Where I used to find sleep to be a bit of a waste of time, I now look forward to and protect my 8 hours, and feel much more productive during the other 16 hours of my day.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s probably a good time to give your mind and body the gift of some downtime. Here are some tips on how to sleep longer and better:
1. Set a regular bedtime and stick to it. It will feel strange for the first couple of nights, but a few mornings of waking up refreshed after a solid 8 hours of sleep will be enough to convince you of the rewards. Your body will adjust and remind you of bedtime by naturally becoming sleepy at the scheduled time. Try it for a week and you won’t want to go back to your old ways.
2. Watch the caffeine and sugar. Avoid coffee, tea and soda after 3 p.m. Also limit your sugar after 7p.m. Sugar interrupts your body’s natural winding down process.
3. Let go of the day’s stress. You can pick it back up tomorrow, but at night, try to relax by taking a hot bath, meditating or envisioning a soothing scene while lying in bed, or escaping through a good book. Finish any next-day preparations at least an hour before bed.
4. Exercise! Physical activity greatly improves the quality of your sleep in a number of ways. Just be careful not to work out too close to your planned bedtime. Exercise gives you more energy and makes you more alert, so try not to exercise for at least 2 hours before hitting the hay.
5. Make your bedroom a nice place to sleep. Sleep offers an escape from the day’s chaos, so make sure your bedroom isn’t also chaotic, with clothes all over the place and many things needing to be done. Instead, make it a haven, enjoyable and peaceful to walk into to, a nice escape from the day’s stimulation. And avoid watching TV in bed, since that will only generate more thoughts, not fewer. The whole point is to let go of the stimulation, mentally, visually and in every other way.
I hope these tips help increase your quality and duration of sleep as they have mine. Enjoy your dreams!