Make Getting Better Sleep YOUR New Year’s Resolution
Prioritizing Sleep in 2018
It’s that time again… the time of year when we make all kinds of promises to ourselves about how we’re going to better our lives by losing that extra 10 or 15 pounds or by spending more time with friends and family this year.
As for me, you know what my resolution is this year? Improving my sleep. As a single mom, of two kids, one of which is just over a year and a half old, who works full-time, I rarely get enough of it. (I’ve no doubt that other parents can relate.) You may not know this, but sleep, in addition to exercise and having a healthy diet, is part of the three “pillars of health”. And if you’re someone, like me, who needs an alarm clock to get up in the morning, you’re probably someone who could use a little advice.
In addition to that, improving your sleep can also help you reach the other goals you’ve set for yourself, like eating better, and exercising more and/or losing weight. Studies have found that a loss, or poor quality, of sleep is associated with an increase in appetite (especially for junk foods!). Here’s an interesting factoid: the body’s response to eating food changes when you don’t get enough sleep – it's true, one week of less sleep is associated with glucose (sugar) levels nearing pre-diabetic levels. Inadequate sleep can also lead to feeling listless (exercising is difficult enough without being tired), and unhealthy food choices (like hitting the drive-thru at McDonalds for dinner).
Getting an adequate amount of sleep ensures that we’re driving more safely too, and even makes us less likely to make mistakes both at work and home. Did you know that being awake for more than 17 hours impairs your ability as much as if you had a blood alcohol concentration above 0.05? And after 24 hours without sleep, your cognitive abilities are reduced significantly, equating to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 - That's above the legal limit. Crazy, right?
A sleep survey in Australia found that 29 percent of workers reported making errors at work specifically due to a lack of sleep. One in five of those surveyed reported having nodded off while driving a vehicle. Those surveyed also felt that when they aren’t getting enough sleep, they were more likely to take a sick day than those who feel they are getting enough.
Make Good Sleeping Habits Part of Your 2018 Routine
Of course, there are challenges to any health-related changes, especially when you consider that making any major changes in our behavior is difficult. (Hey, old habits die hard) It’s not easy to dodge sweets – particularly during the holidays – or to exercise every single day,nor is it easy to get an extra 1-2 hours sleep every night, especially when there’s homework and baths and dinner to make. But you can do it, just don't give up - it will be worth it! Try starting off small: shoot for an additional 15-30 minutes of sleep instead of an hour or two, or try taking a 15-minute walk after dinner and slowly work up to a full-blown workout. You know, baby steps. So long as you’re making a sincere effort, that’s what matters. And remember to give yourself credit. You’ve earned it.
Healthy Habits – Beginning is Simple
When it comes to bettering your sleep habits, another challenge for some may be not knowing how, or where, to begin. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites with tips for improving your sleep, such as bettering your sleeping environment, cultivating healthier habits before turning off the light, and simply getting superior sleep altogether.
The American Sleep Foundation recommends adults between 18 and 64 years of age get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, while older adults should aim for 7-8 hours. Your ideal sleeping period will be unique to you though, and should fall somewhere within the recommended range for your age group. Not sure how much sleep you need? Try a sleeping experiment for the week. To help, follow these simple guidelines:
- Put away the technology. (Seriously, put down the laptop and cell phone and, if you can, keep them out of the bedroom entirely. Got a TV in your bedroom? Remove it.)
- Create a quiet and dark sleeping space. (Even small lights and noises can interrupt your sleep cycles, affecting your quality of sleep.)
- Allow yourself some time to unwind each evening before bed. (This is no different than having some quiet time with your little ones before tucking them in for the night. No technology, chores, etc. too close to bedtime.)
- Consider getting rid of your alarm clock so that your body has the chance to tell you how much sleep it really needs.
Consider keeping a sleep diary – tracking your sleep and wake times can help you determine which habits aren’t good for you and the determine the aspects that could use some revision. Some important things to notate are:
- Your sleep/wake times
- Whether or not you feel rested upon waking
- Any new aches and pains that weren’t felt the night before
- The amount of caffeine/alcohol you’ve ingested
- Did you take a nap? (time of day, length of nap)
- How long it took you to fall asleep
- How long did you sleep for?
- Your energy levels throughout the day
If you’re still not sleeping well, or enough, even after trying these strategies, you should discuss it with your doctor. Don’t wait for him/her to ask. If it’s a concern of yours, then your doctor should know about it. Have questions after business hours? Have no fear! The internet is available 24/7.
The 2014 Sleep in America™ poll found that parents who had poor sleeping habits (like scrolling through Facebook or watching TV before bed) were more likely to have children with the same unhealthy habits. The poll also showed that busy schedules are the most common reason for sleeping issues. Making these changes won’t be easy with such busy lives – but, it is feasible.
The first step is recognizing the importance of sleep for your health; next is learning different ways to improve the amount/quality of your sleep; and then, set the goal and follow through with it. I promise, making these changes will pay off in the long run. Give it a try and you’ll see the difference it makes.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year! Thanks for reading!