Health October 11, 2010

Sleep-Catching Some Zzzzzs

Hey, you! The one nodding off as you’re trying to read this. Do you need a super-size mocha java just to get going in the morning? Do you often feel cranky and stressed out? Does it seem you just can’t catch up on sleep? Well, if so, you’re not alone.

According to a recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 63 percent of American adults don’t get the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night. In fact, a recent study reported that Americans are sleeping fewer hours and spending more time at work, resulting in a tired society with less time for family, social activities, and sex.

Why is the road to Slumberland anything but a dream? While some sleep disturbances may be linked to biological changes associated with aging or certain physical diseases, the most common cause seems to be stress. “There’s a huge association between stress and poor sleep,” says Joyce A. Walsleben, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at New York University School of Medicine. Stress pours adrenaline into the system and prepares the body for action, not sleep. Even an apparently happy event, such as a promotion or an upcoming vacation, can bring it on. Walsleben recommends that you identify the kind of stress you are experiencing and schedule time during the day to address it, so that it does not disrupt your nights.

How serious are the effects of sleep deprivation? “A good night’s sleep is a necessity, not a luxury,” comments Richard Gelula, executive director of the National Sleep Foundation. The consequences of sleep deprivation, specifically the “problem sleepiness” that normally follows the next day, can be severe and may include loss of memory and concentration, a weakened immune system, depression, and weight gain. Fatigue can also trigger dangerous situations. For example, the Automobile Association of America Foundation for Traffic Safety asserts that as many as 10 percent of all car accidents are caused by fatigued drivers.

So, how many hours per night should you sleep in order to feel rested? While the recommended average is 8 hours per night, for those interested in peak performance, the ideal is 9 hours and 25 minutes, says James B. Maas, author of Power Sleep. If you’re getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night on a regular basis, chances are you’re building up a “sleep debt,” and may be compromising your health and welfare.

“Balm of hurt minds,” Shakespeare called sleep. “Great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” Whatever lengths you have to go to, a good night’s sleep is worth it.

Sweet Dreams

1.Maintain a consistent schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time, even on weekends.
2.Exercise. Get plenty of it, but time your workout a minimum of four to six hours before bedtime.
3. Avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime, alcohol and nicotine within two. Remember, caffeine is found not just in coffee but in tea, cola drinks, some medications, and chocolate.
4. Develop relaxing bedtime rituals.
A warm bath, reading, practicing yoga, or drinking herbal tea might be all it takes to “tuck yourself in.” Avoid activities likely to cause stress such as reviewing the agenda for a business meeting, or paying bills.
5. Use your bed only for
sleeping and sex.
6. Try a light bedtime snack rich in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, milk, yogurt, or fig-filled cookies.
7. Create a restful sleep environment. Sleep in a cool, quiet, dark room.




This article appears in the Winter 2002 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.