Three Steps to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Posted on 21 January 2016 by Maryanne Johnson
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In 1965, high school student Randy Hawthorne conducted an experiment at a science fair to see how long he could stay awake.
He made it 265 hours before he crashed, and although experts said he suffered no serious side effects at the time, we know that going without sleep for long periods of time – or only grabbing a few hours of sleep a night due to family, job and health commitments – can have a serious impact on our health.
Sleep Time is Quality Time
When we get deep, quality sleep, our bodies and brains have time to recover from the activities of the day and our muscles heal from the injuries they experience during exercise, growing stronger in the process.
While we are sleeping, we rejuvenate skin cells and restore our energy levels, so when we wake up the next morning we can hit the ground running for a productive new day.
The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
So what happens when we don’t get the eight or nine hours we need for our bodies to recover and heal? If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you are putting not only yourself, but also others in jeopardy.
When we’re sleepy, we are not alert, especially behind the wheel. Experts say that thousands of car accidents a year are attributed to sleep-deprived drivers who are too slow to react to road hazards.
And it’s not just on the road where those who are chronically deprived of sleep are causing problems.
Some of the worst disasters in recent history, including the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez oil spill are all associated with sleep deprivation.
Health Problems of Sleeplessness
Essentially, being tired makes us stupid, and more likely to make mistakes that cause big disasters. We are less alert, less able to focus and concentrate and less able to solve problems.
And if that’s not bad enough, those who don’t get enough sleep are also at risk of gaining weight.
When we’re tired, we instinctively reach for sugary snacks to keep us awake and alert, which not only boosts our calorie intake, but also impacts blood sugar, sending it shooting up before it crashes, leaving us just as exhausted as we were before, and again reaching for another sugary treat.
When we’re tired, our willpower is completely shot.
Essentially, if you’re not sleeping well and find yourself struggling with your weight, getting enough sleep can help you lose weight, or at least help prevent you from gaining any extra.
Along with weight gain, sleeplessness also raises the risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depression. (Research has shown that a lack of sleep can be as damaging to our hearts as smoking or obesity, in part due to the increased release of stress hormones that hike blood pressure and put an unnecessary strain on the heart.)
Tips to Get Your ZZZZs
To stay healthy, we clearly need to get to sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, keep a regular bedtime schedule. Skip naps, don’t sleep in on the weekends, take time to wind down before bed and follow the following three tips to turn tossing and turning into deep, restful sleep.
- Keep your bedroom a bedroom. One of the biggest reasons we aren’t getting enough sleep these days is because many of us have turned our bedroom into a mini office, with our laptops and cell phones within ready reach. That keeps stress levels high, and lowers the likelihood of falling asleep fast. The bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex and nothing else. Make sure your room is comfy, with pillows and blankets that are conducive to sleep, as well as a temperature that’s like Goldilocks’ porridge – not too hot, and not too cold. A spritz of lavender essential oil can also help create a restful, relaxed space.
- Exercise every day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people sleep better if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, the same amount of exercise recommended for heart health.. “We were using the physical activity guidelines set forth for cardiovascular health, but it appears that those guidelines might have a spillover effect to other areas of health,” said Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise science at Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors. “Increasingly, the scientific evidence is encouraging as regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep.”
- Choose the right foods. While most of us realize that consuming caffeine after 1 or 2 p.m. can easily derail sleep, there are a wide range of food mistakes we might be making that are keeping us awake at night. Eating a heavy, fat-filled meal too close to bedtime jolts your digestive system into action, slowing your body’s ability to properly rest. Spicy foods can also cause problems, and can lead to heartburn that keeps you awake. And forget having a nightcap to help you nod off. More often than not, as soon as the alcoholic beverage wears off, so will your sleep. Better choices include tryptophan-rich foods including turkey, eggs, warm milk, bananas and honey, each of which will help promote a restful night’s sleep.
Sleeping Habits and Wrinkles
While we now know how very important it is to get a good night’s sleep, the way you sleep could play a big part in whether or not your skin stays young and free from wrinkles.
According to Dr. Goesel Anson in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, sleeping the wrong way can lead to something called sleep wrinkles, which as we age, are less likely to go away, and over time, can become permanent if not properly treated.
“Sleep wrinkles are the lines that are formed when the face is compressed against a pillow night after night and they occur in predictable locations based on fixed anchor points that hold the skin to bone,” Anson said.
Anson recommends sleeping on your back – unless you have health issues such as sleep apnea, back and neck problems or other issues that prevent the sleep position – or investing in an anti-wrinkle pillow to prevent the pressure that causes wrinkles.