Health

Get More Sleep – Or Else

February 29, 2012

It wasn’t long ago that the standard advice for good health was: eat right, exercise and don’t smoke.  However today, health care professionals are adding another very important element to that list—get enough sleep.

In today’s world of one big global economy, more and more people are working jobs that require second and third shifts; they are working out of their time zone.  Many watch late-night television or use the Internet till the wee hours.  Worries and daily problems keep us from sleeping enough hours or from sleeping soundly.

According to research done at the Mayo Clinic, insufficient sleep results in memory impairment, slower reaction times, lack of alertness and general grumpiness.  Tired people are less productive at work, less patient with others and less interactive in their relationships. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 100,000 crashes each year are due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel.

For those of us who exercise regularly, we all know how unproductive a session can be when we have failed to get a good night’s sleep. And – just to kick you when you’re down – lack of sleep will also disrupt your metabolism and cause you to secrete more of the hormone cortisol.  This increases your appetite and causes you to crave fatty foods.

But just how much sleep is considered “enough”? Even though most evidence indicates that the amount of sleep needed is highly individualized, the majority people require seven to eight hours of sleep at night.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, one-third of Americans are sleeping six-and-a-half hours per night – or less.

Dr. John Shepard Jr., who runs the Mayo Sleep Clinic, offers the following advice on how to get a better night’s sleep.

  • Stick to a schedule.  That means not sleeping much more on Shabbat or holidays.  Make an effort to go to sleep and wake up about the same time every day.
  • Don’t eat or drink a lot before bedtime. Try to stop eating about 2 hours before you head to sleep. And remember that drinking too much before bed will cause you to wake up several times to urinate in the middle of the night.
  • Avoid caffeine and Nicotine.  Addictive stimulants will keep you awake.  Don’t have caffeine at least 7-8 hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise!  Exercise and regular physical activity enhance the quality of sleep.
  • Keep the room cool.  A room that is overheated isn’t good for sleeping.  Keeping the room cool mimics your internal body temperature at night.
  • Sleep at night.  Avoid daytime naps, but if you do need to nap, do so before 3 o’clock in the afternoon and never sleep for more than one hour.
  • Keep it quiet.   Silence is more conducive to sleep.  Don’t keep the TV or radio on as you fall asleep.  Use earplugs or a running fan if need be to eliminate background street noise.
  • Your bed is for sleep. Make sure you bed is comfortable and only use it for sleeping.  Go there when you are tired and turn out the lights.  If you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, go somewhere else and do something else, like reading on the living room couch, until you get tired.

If you try all of these tips for a period of time and you still can’t sleep, seek professional help from a sleep center or a physician that specializes in sleep disorders.

Before the light bulb was invented, people averaged about ten hours of sleep per night!  That makes the average standard nowadays seem frighteningly low.  Getting adequate sleep is a key ingredient to living a life filled with clarity, vitality and health.

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer and a Lifestyle Fitness Coach with over 16 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight-loss and stress-reduction center Lose It! He can be reached at 02-651-8502, 050-555-7175, on his USA Line 1-516-568-5027, or by email at alan@loseit.co.il.