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Why Get Enough Sleep?

When we talk about improving health habits, we usually talk about making healthy food choices and getting enough physical activity. We will go for a run, drink more water and reduce our sugar intake, but getting enough sleep falls off of our to do list. We crowd our schedules with the important things, and by the time day is done, it is late. Are there consequences for not getting enough sleep? A resounding yes!

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep is good for the brain. When we fall asleep, the brain is able to create new pathways to help us learn. This helps students perform better and people who require troubleshooting and problem solving skills on the job. When we go to school or work tired, we may become more emotional and have difficulty with change. Poor sleeping habits may also contribute to feeling stressed, sad, or depressed. It is also associated with an increased incidence of obesity.

Sleep plays a role in helping our bodies to function at its best. During sleep, our bodies repair damage to the heart and blood vessels. When we miss out on those precious hours each night, we increase our risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease, stroke and others. Sleep helps us to maintain a healthy balance of the hunger hormone, leptin (makes us hungry) and ghrelin (makes us full). The lack of sleep can also negatively impact another hormone, insulin. Not enough sleep can mean higher blood sugar levels. Lastly, a good night’s sleep helps our body’s immune system to function at optimal levels.

One other area affected by a good night’s sleep is our safety. This same organization reports that, “Driver sleepiness is a factor in 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths.” (1)

How can we improve our sleep habits?

  1. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday. This helps set the time clock in our bodies.
  2. Take a break from bright computer or TV screens an hour before going to sleep. The bright light can tell our brain to stay awake.
  3. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine. These substances can stay active in the body for up to eight hours, and when it is time to sleep, we are wired even though we are tired.
  4. Avoid eating heavy meals a couple of hours before going to sleep. Heavy meals can keep us awake.
  5. Try taking a hot shower or bath to help relax before going to sleep.
  6. When we are ready to sleep, turn the lights out and if possible, keep things quiet. Reflect on things that are peaceful and pleasant. This helps in falling asleep.

Remember to add getting enough sleep to our healthy list of things to do. For more information on sleep, visit: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/publications-and-resources.  Look for, “Your Guide to Healthy Sleep.”

References:

  1. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency. Accessed on December 16, 2018.

Pamela Williams writes from Southern California.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

is a dietitian in Southern California.

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