“Sleep It Off”

by Dr. Chelsea Graziano, Assistant Director of Case Management

Medical recommendations indicate that adults should be getting on average 8 hours of sleep per night. At that rate, an individual spends a whopping 2,912 hours asleep per year. This equates to 232,960 hours of sleep in your lifetime based on the current average lifespan in North America of about 80 years. That is a total of 26.6 years of sleep!

However, many of us experience poor sleep at least periodically, if not more pervasively, throughout our lives. If you knew you were going to be doing something for an average of 26.6 years of your life you would probably want to make the best of it, right? As we approach Daylight Savings Time and prepare to lose an hour of sleep on March 14th, there is no better time to talk about our sleep habits and how we can improve upon them.

Research has shown that poor sleep leads to an increase in the incidence of heart attacks, strokes, other vascular health conditions, car accidents and other accidents, as well as behavioral health issues. Poor sleep affects us physically and mentally. Not only can it leave us feeling drained at the end of the day, but it can lead to long-term negative health outcomes. Sleep is essential to our overall functioning. During sleep, the body helps to repair damaged cells, boost our immune system functioning, and release and produce important hormones. Further, lack of sleep significantly affects cognitive functioning leading to a decrease in our ability to focus, problem-solve, and remain mentally alert.

There are many factors that effect sleep on a daily basis, including what we eat, our activity level, our digital screen time, and general life stress (and who could forget, the ongoing pandemic!). Can you imagine the impact that has on your general wellbeing and overall wellness? One way to combat the effects that stress and other factors have on our ability to sleep is to focus on improving our sleep hygiene. 

Sleep hygiene is the concept of developing healthy sleep habits. Aside from the basics of avoiding caffeine before bed, keeping the room dark, and maintaining a temperate environment, below are several tips and tricks for improving your sleep hygiene:

  • Maintain a schedule- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help you stay on track with achieving the suggested amount of sleep your body needs. Our bodies have an ‘internal clock’ called the sleep-wake cycle (a form of circadian rhythm) that helps us to regulate this.
  • Keep the bedroom for only the 2 S’s- Many of us are in the habit of laying in bed to watch television, read a book, or get pulled down the rabbit hole of social media on our phones. However, doing these things in bed can create a mental connection that can keep you up at night instead of helping you to wind down for sleep. Keep the bed for sleep (and sex) to avoid this.
  • Tone down the blue light!- Most of our electronic devices emit what is called ‘blue light’. This frequency of light has a direct effect on our bodies ability to produce melatonin. Additionally, it increases activity in the parts of the brain that are responsible for alertness, elevation of our heart rate, and our blood pressure. This decrease in our sleep hormone coupled with the increases in physiological and cognitive activity are a recipe for disaster when it comes to a desire to sleep. Keep the electronics powered down for at least 30 minutes to one hour prior to bedtime.
  • Do not just lie there – If you cannot sleep and find yourself tossing and turning then the best thing to do is to get out of bed. This may sound counterintuitive but continuing to toss and turn will only frustrate you more and lead to increased physiological arousal. Instead, get out of bed and do a calming activity for a short period of time. Then try again to get to sleep.
  • No large meals or drinks before bed – Eating large meals before bed can lead to an increase in the risk of experiencing heart burn or indigestion during the night and drinking large quantities increases the risk of needing to use the bathroom during the night, both of which can disturb the sleep you have worked so hard to achieve!
  • Avoid the snooze button – The additional few moments of sleep that you may gain by hitting that snooze button are not helpful to you in the long run. You must have enough time to reach the various levels of sleep in order for it to be restorative. Although it may seem like a good idea to get ‘just 5 more minutes,’ those minutes really do not do anything positive for your sense of restfulness and alertness.
  • Journal- Keep a sleep journal to notate the things that are helpful for you and those that are not. This way you can track what is most beneficial for you to improve your overall sleep quality. There are many worksheets available digitally that can help you gather and maintain this information about your sleep hygiene journey.

As a reminder if you are worried about your sleep quality please consult your medical provider. There are many medical reasons for poor sleep quality that may require medical intervention.