“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book!” – Irish proverb.
Many of us sacrifice sleep for other things and sometimes don’t realize how sleep-deprived we really are. I always ask my patients about their sleep and usually, they giggle, as if sleep is a luxury that they simply cannot afford.
There are literally volumes of research on the importance of sleep and the physical, mental and emotional health risks – that are – associated with sleep deprivation.
Among them are:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack and heart failure
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
A 2007 British study said lack of sleep doubled the risk of death from a cardiovascular event. Many of these issues stem from the fact that lack of sleep increases hunger, which leads to the craving of high-fat, high-carbohydrate food. This can eventually lead to weight gain and obesity.
Besides the serious medical risks associated with lack of sleep, there are other potential mental health and emotional risks associated with chronic sleep loss, from general irritability to depression and anxiety. Lack of proper sleep is proven to alter our learning and problem-solving and can also impair our ability to make sound and reasonable judgments.
Many people have convinced themselves they only need six or fewer hours of sleep a night.
However, increased depression and anxiety are strongly associated with decreased sleep, according to a study by the National Sleep Foundation.
Insomnia can exacerbate depression and lead to increased irritability and over-reaction to everyday circumstances and situations.
We all need more sleep, but how do we get it?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Decrease your caffeine intake. Stop caffeine consumption at approximately 2-3 pm.
- Eliminate long naps. A short, 20-minute catnap can recharge your batteries and won’t confuse your internal clock, or circadian rhythm.
- Keep consistent sleep/wake times. Irregular sleep patterns can alter your circadian rhythm and melatonin level; signaling your brain to sleep. Keep your pattern, especially on the weekends.
- Don’t drink alcohol before bed. It is known to cause or increase sleep apnea, snoring and disruptive sleep.
- Create a calm, quiet and dark bedroom with comfortable bedding and an optimal temperature of 70 degrees.
- Develop a nighttime routine to improve sleep. Set a digital curfew for when you turn off all electronic devices.
If you continue to have difficulties getting to sleep using these tips, contact your primary care doctor, who may recommend a sleep study.
Recurring guest columnist Stephanie Mullis, MEd, is a licensed mental health counselor with Baptist Behavioral Health.