• The ABCs of Zzzs

    photo credit to Joi When the day is done and you finally curl up in bed, do you easily drift off to dreamland? Or do you toss and turn, calculating how many hours of sleep you can get before you have to get up and start all over again? According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep each day, but millions of Americans are getting far less. Lack of sleep could be ruining your productivity as well your mental and emotional health.

    Why is sleep so important?

    photo credit to perpetualplum Getting enough sleep isn’t just about waking up bright eyed with enough pep to tackle your day. Not catching enough zzzs fundamentally changes the way the body operates . The risk of heart disease and high blood pressure increase dramatically because there are more stress hormones in the body. At the same time, leptin and ghrelin, hormones that control appetite, become unbalanced, which leads to overeating, obesity, and diabetes. Changes in brain chemicals can result in depression, mood swings, and headaches. As if all that wasn’t enough, reaction times slow, attention spans become significantly shorter, and pain increases.

    From a practical standpoint, lack of sleep can have a serious impact on your day-to-day life. You may not be able to focus at work, or you may not have enough energy to play with your kids. And it doesn’t take long for these nasty effects to start popping up. Even one night of tossing and turning is enough to send things off kilter.

    Sadly, the sleep clock doesn’t reset easily. You can’t make up for a sleepless night by getting a normal night’s sleep the next evening. Lost sleep adds up into sleep debt that must eventually be repaid. For example, if you need eight hours of sleep each night, but only get five hours for a week, you have racked up 21 hours of sleep debt. It can be hard to keep track, especially if you aren’t sure how much you are actually sleeping, but there are tools that can help. SleepBot is a free app that uses the accelerometer and microphone in your smartphone to measure and track your night’s sleep and calculate your sleep debt.

    Prepare Your Environment

    The amount of sleep you get, and the quality of that sleep, depends on the environment. The National Sleep Foundation can help you set the stage for a great night of rest . You’ll need to start with a great mattress that provides enough support to keep your body and spine in correct alignment. Generally, firm mattresses are best for people that experience back pain on an ongoing basis, but selecting the right mattress means taking the time to test them while shopping. Deck the mattress out with crisp, clean sheets and keep the room free of clutter.

    Electronics such as laptops, smartphones and televisions stimulate the mind and make it difficult to wind down for the night. Keep the bedroom a sanctuary for sleep by declaring it an electronics-free zone. It may be helpful to give electronics an earlier bedtime than your own. Powering down gadgets 30 minutes before bedtime allows your brain to start to relax so that once you crawl into bed you are ready for rest.

    Prepare Yourself for Sleep

    photo credit to o0bsessed Going to sleep isn’t as easy as laying down and closing your eyes. Even when your body is exhausted, your mind will continue to scroll through your to-do list, balance your bank account, plan the week’s menu, and rehearse your work presentation. To prepare yourself for a restful night, eat a light dinner and avoid caffeine after 3:00 PM. Set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it. If you go to bed at the same time each evening, your body will start to wind down in expectation of sleep. To unwind both your body and mind, practice a short, easy yoga routine . The iSleep app for iPhone has several guided meditations that will help to switch off the constant loop of thoughts. It also includes relaxing white noise. However, the best way to ensure a great night’s sleep is to believe that you will fall asleep easily. Worrying over getting enough sleep quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in which stress prevents you from resting.

    Everyone spends a night tossing and turning once in awhile. However, preparing the environment and your mind for rest will help you start chiseling away at that sleep debt and avoid the effects from lack of rest.

    Are you up all night?

    What do you do to help you sleep soundly? White noise, a steady bedtime, or perhaps a mug of herbal tea? Leave your replies below to start a conversation. What is your sleep debt so far this week? We love to hear from our readers so we can respond with tips. It also helps to know you’re not alone! Tell us your sleep pattern, then head over to our Facebook page…unless it’s past your bedtime.