Sleep: It Does A Body Good

Ahh, sleep. After a long, hard day, what can be better than putting on your most comfortable pajamas, turning off the lights and nestling up with a nice, cozy blanket? You’ve worked hard all day, and now it’s time for you to rest. You say your prayers, and it’s off to the fantasy world of dreams.

Just when you are fully engulfed in that long journey through dreamland, the shrill drone of the alarm clock pounds your eardrums. It’s time to get up, already?! Although that buzz is one that you learn to loathe no matter how many Z’s you had the night before, most of the time, it comes too early. Unfortunately, a lengthy, restful night’s sleep is becoming a myth to the majority of Americans because of hectic schedules. Despite the recommended eight hours of sleep each night, the National Sleep Foundation says the average American sleeps fewer than seven hours a night. One-third of Americans get fewer than six hours of sleep.

“The biggest misconception regarding sleep that I encounter is that many individuals believe they can function at their best with six or less hours of sleep per night,” said Dr. Christopher L. Drake, senior scientist at the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders and Research Center in Detroit, in a roundtable discussion posted on the NSF website. “In fact, numerous studies have demonstrated that this level of sleep time can negatively impact an individual in a variety of ways, including increased risk for accidents and risk taking, potential metabolic abnormalities and a lack of awareness of the subjective sensation of excessive physiological sleepiness.”

Although many people think they do just fine with so little sleep, there is a price to be paid for taking time from your sleep schedule. Half of the Americans polled by the NSF said they are often tired, fatigued or don’t feel up to par during the day. And 17 percent said they feel that way nearly every day.

The risks of sleep depravation aren’t all work-related. Lack of sleep also makes people more irritable, increases the risk of auto accidents and may contribute to health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And even worse—that alarm clock you rely on to jolt you to consciousness every morning might actually be making you more tired. That painful buzz scares your brain into alertness for the moment, but the adrenaline rush soon fades, forcing you to resort to unnatural remedies for sleepiness, such as caffeine.

To become more awake every day, turn off that alarm clock and go to sleep earlier. Waking up naturally will help you remember more about the day and maintain your natural alertness. If you’re a “night owl” normally, start off slowly. After all, you can’t force yourself to go to sleep hours before you normally would. Skip naptime and opt, instead, to go to sleep about 30 minutes earlier each night until you can wake up on time. With a little tweaking, your sleep schedule should get into a healthy pattern, and you can throw out that annoying alarm clock.

Sleep experts at the Better Sleep Council recommend creating a sleep-conducive environment, establishing a regular before-bed routine and maintaining a regular sleep and wake schedule (even on weekends). While sleeping in occasionally can be good, the BSC suggests doing so only when necessary. You can sleep in longer than usual to rid yourself of sleep “debt,” but overall, it’s better to stay on a routine sleep cycle. They also recommend exercising regularly to tire and relax the body, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine in the evening and eating at least two to three hours before your bedtime.

To learn more about your sleep patterns and needs, try keeping a sleep diary for one or two weeks. Record what time you go to bed and wake up each morning and track how tired you feel during the day. You might notice some trends. A sleep diary is available online at NSF website’s at www.sleepfoundation.org.

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[Erica Howard is currently a student at UCF, and tries hard to get a good night’s rest.]

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