MARCH IS NATIONAL SLEEP AWARENESS MONTH

Sleep rejuvenates and repairs our bodies and our minds. However, it can be a huge source of stress and frustration when we aren’t able to sleep well or long enough.

But what is truly enough?

Everyone is very different and can function well on varying amounts of sleep. However, there are recommended ranges for optimal sleep based on age according to the National Sleep Foundation. The recommended amount of sleep for adults is seven to nine hours per night, while seniors do well with seven to eight hours nightly, and children typically requiring more sleep the younger they are.

Sleep is so important to our bodies, as evidenced by the fact that we will spend approximately one-third of our lives asleep. During sleep, our bodies repair the damage that was done during the day, and the neurons in our brain make new connections to help us store memories and assimilate information. Plus, sleeping is like hitting a “reset” button so we can start over fresh each morning.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute connects adequate sleep to various aspects of health, including brain function, emotional well-being, physical health, daytime performance, and safety. Just think about how you feel after a night of poor sleep. It’s harder to focus, your reflexes may be slower, you may be irritable, and even crave unhealthy foods to try to give you the energy you are lacking.

Ongoing sleep deficiency is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, mood disorders, immune function, increased alcohol use, and lowered life expectancy according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Not only is inadequate sleep a risk factor for disease, excessive sleep (over recommended amounts) is also correlated with reduced health, so balance is key.

Here are some tips to help you sleep more soundly:

•Make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep – it should be dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature. Designate the bedroom as a place of rest and don’t use it for other activities.

•Create a relaxing pre-sleep routine. Include activities that help you clear your mind such as reading, writing, meditation, or catching up with your spouse.

•Refrain from screen time at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. The light from electronics stimulates your brain and can make it hard for our minds to relax and “shut down.”

•Like screens, caffeine can impair sleep. It stays in our system for many hours, so it is recommended to avoid any caffeine consumption after early afternoon. Caffeine is found in coffee, teas, chocolate, soda, and some medications.

•Try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day – even on weekends. This helps your body get into a routine and over time will make getting up and falling asleep easier.

Follow these tips to improve your sleep habits and help you sleep soundly for the recommended amount of time. By doing so, you can have a positive impact on various health concerns and improve your overall wellbeing.