Healthy Behaviors

Get Some Zzz’s

Abby is the best sleeper I’ve ever known. Unless she’s eating dinner or taking a walk, you’ll most likely find her ‘holding down the bed’ in my parents’ bedroom. Now, we humans don’t need (or have time) to get the same amount of sleep as dogs or others animals, but sleep should be seen as just as important to us as it does for my dog to get her daily naps!

I pride myself in the amount of sleep I get. I love being able to say “yeah i get more than 8 hours of sleep most nights.” It hasn’t always been that way, but in the past year or two I’ve come to value feeling rested, and even enjoy waking up early (well early for a college student that is)! My Dad is finally happy I’m listening to his constant quoting of Ben Franklin:

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”

Getting enough sleep is a non-negotiable. Call me crazy, but I would rather not do my homework, not study the extra hour, or watch another episode, than not get my full 8 hours (or ideally more closely to 9). My roommate jokes that if she doesn’t change before 10:30 she knows she’s going to be changing in the dark (sorry Kac). Honestly, I don’t know how people function with little amounts of sleep, so kudos to you if that’s you. But whether you can or can’t function with little amounts of sleep, getting proper sleep is an important aspect of creating a wholesome and happy life.

What is sleep and why is it important?

Currently there is no succinct reason as to why we need sleep every night, but it serves many functions for the body (University of Minnesota, 2016). Sleeps helps the body recover from wear and tear of every day life and helps cells regenerate, as most restorative functions occur exclusively during sleep (Harvard Medical School, 2008). Sleep facilitates learning and memory (27). Sleep also has many immune functions, as it produces infection fighting proteins (so sleep is not only great when you are sick, but also to help prevent from getting sick!) Most sleep experts would argue that

“Getting enough high quality sleep is just as important to well-being as nutrition and exercise

Harvard Medical School, 2008

Enough high quality sleep leads to decreased stress, improved mood, enhanced concentration, and helps control chronic illnesses.

What happens with inadequate sleep?

If you are’t getting enough, or good enough quality sleep, many areas of your life can be impacted in both the short term and long term (University of Minnesota, 2016) .

  1. Short term impacts: Increased stress, disturbed mood, impair ability to concentrate
  2. Increased risk for chronic disease: Your risk for type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, blood pressure, and obesity
  3. Decreased immune function: You are more likely to get the flu or catch the common cold when you are consistently not getting adequate sleep
  4. Mental Health Risk: You are 10x more likely to develop major depression if you aren’t getting enough sleep. Sleep and depression can become cyclical in nature which is hard to break.
  5. Strain relationships: Inadequate sleep can impair your ability to appreciate your significant other and close friends
  6. Costly: In a large scale pragmatic matter, inadequate sleep causes an estimated $50 billion lost in productivity annually in the United States
  7. Shortened lifespan

Whether you are a student or a working adult, it can be hard to prioritize sleep. But I think you won’t regret adapting to a lifestyle that ensures adequate sleep. The number of hours of sleep you need a night depends on the person and what stage of life you are in, but the recommended average is 7 to 9 hours a night (University of Minnesota, 2016). Harvard Medical School explains why you should get adequate saying,

“Not only will you feel better, but will also increase the odds of living healthier, more productive lives”

If you are struggling to get adequate sleep, here are some recommendations:

1. Regular Exercise

I can testify to this. When I’m not regularly exercising, I find it much harder to fall and stay asleep. But currently, being an active student athlete, most nights when my head hits the pillow, I’m out

2. Cultivate Healthy Relationships

Strain in your relationships can leave your mind spinning as you try to go to sleep and can decrease your quality of sleep

3. Avoid stimulants late in the day (or maybe entirely).

Everyone is different, but expect caffeine to last 6-8 hours after consumption. So watch out for that afternoon coffee or you’re mind will be restless when you’re trying to sleep. If you’re used to drinking something in the afternoons, try decaf or lightly caffeinated teas! (Ginger-Turmeric or green teas are my go-tos)

4. Sleep Routine

Having a nightly ritual can help remind your body that its time to sleep. Additionally, its important to keep a fairly consistent bedtime and waketime throughout the week (yes, this means no noon wake up times on the weekends)

5. Ideal sleep environment

Create an environment that is conducive to high quality sleep. This means shutting out lights, minimizing noise, and a cool temperature (54-75 F)

6. Avoid screen time at night

This is definitely something I can work on, but blue light from screens (phones, laptops, tv) can stimulate the brain making it harder to sleep. If you are having trouble falling asleep try putting your electronics away 30min to an hour before bed time. If you aren’t tired, try reading a hardcopy book or journaling

7. Power Naps

If you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, try taking a power nap. But caution keep them 20 to 30 minutes and not near bedtime, or else they will make going to sleep even harder.

Sleep is an integral part to creating a wholesome and happy life! It is interconnected with many other aspects of healthy living, and letting your sleeping habits slip can cause difficulties in other parts of life too. Every night sleep is not going to be perfect, sometimes due to things you can control (hello late night concerts) and other times life just doesn’t want you to sleep that night (staring at the wall for hours and even counting sheep doesn’t see to help). The important thing is to prioritize healthy sleeping habits to the best of your ability on average, while not letting it get in your way of truly living!

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