Sleep is critical to your overall health and well-being. It’s one of the three pillars of health, alongside diet/nutrition, and exercise/activity. Because sleep plays key roles in nearly every regulatory process in your body, lack of good-quality sleep can lead to a long list of bad outcomes.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recently jointly recommended that a typical healthy adult needs at least seven hours of sleep daily for optimal health and functioning. Studies show insufficient sleep leads to cardiovascular and metabolic symptoms like weight gain and obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, inflammation, heart attack, and stroke. It also contributes to depression, stress, substance abuse, accidents, injuries, and inability to focus.
Research shows people who do not get enough sleep are more likely to miss work, call in sick, underperform or be unproductive, and spend more on health care due to poor health. When you short yourself on sleep time, your work and your qualify of life suffer.
There are three steps to better sleep.
- Get screened for a sleep disorder. Up to 10% of the U.S. adult population meets the criteria for an insomnia disorder. The recommended first-line treatment for insomnia does not involve medications and usually outperforms sleeping pills.
- Practice healthy sleep habits; that is, “sleep hygiene.” Keep a regular schedule; avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol at night; keep your bedroom a comfortable temperature; remove electronic media (including the TV) from your bedroom; avoid naps; and get plenty of exercise during the day. These steps may not fix a sleep problem, but they will help prevent one from developing.
- Set realistic goals and don’t try to make too many lifestyle changes at once. If you can’t find another hour to sleep, start with an extra 15 minutes. Allow yourself time to wind down at night. Sometimes, tracking your sleep in a log or diary can help you notice patterns and stay on a regular schedule.
Sleep is an important part of health and daytime functioning. Sleep is not unproductive time—during sleep, your body is very busy doing what it needs to do to keep you fit, functional and focused. It’s time to make sleep a priority!