Let’s Talk About Sleep Baby
By: Amy Chang Radosevich, MA, ACSM, ACE, AFAA
Now that I have your attention, a more appropriate title maybe Let’s Talk About Sleeping Like A Baby. A couple articles I recently read made me seriously contemplate quitting caffeine and alcohol altogether. Well, maybe not to that extreme because I LOVE my coffee and wine, but I certainly plan to moderate my consumption even more due to the negative impact they have on sleep quality and quantity.
Cost Of Sleep Deficiency
Neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker, and author of Why We Sleep, posits that there are three pillars of health - diet, exercise, and sleep. If any one of the three gets compromised, the other two simply can’t stand on their own. With that in mind, I realized that most of my blog posts have focused on nutrition, exercise, and mindset but have neglected to talk about sleep. Walker thinks sleep loss has become an epidemic in the modern industrialized world. An article in the New Yorker cited that sleep deprivation increases workplace injuries and decreases productivity, costing companies a staggering $18 billion a year. No wonder companies like Nike, Google, and Uber are investing in sleep pods that cost $13,000 a unit. Another sobering statistic cites that out of 1.2 million car crashes per year, 20 percent of them were attributed to tired drivers. In this case, sleep deprivation can have life or death consequences.
From an overall health perspective, sleep has also been proven as a biological necessity rather than a luxury. Sleep deficiency has been linked to reduced learning ability, memory loss, increased vulnerability to dementia, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, premature aging, increase in mood and anxiety disorders, injury risks, and lower immune functions.
Knowing how costly sleep deficiency can be, it may be helpful to understand what happens when we sleep so we know why we are not simply wasting 8 hours of our lives each day being “unproductive”. The first half of our sleep cycle is called nREM (non-rapid-eye-movement) or slow wave deep sleep. This part of the cycle helps with memory storage. It’s like pressing the SAVE button on what we’ve learned. It’s also important for learning the next day as it’s like wringing out a wet sponge so it’s dry and ready to soak up new information.
The second half is called REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep or lighter sleep. This part of the sleep cycle is associated with dreaming, hallucinations and paralysis. Sounds scary but it’s critical for our emotional health, problem solving and creativity. Arianna Huffington, author of Sleep Revolution, compared sleeping to laundry. Completing all the cycles of sleep is like finishing the cycles in the washer. If you cut it short, you’ll wake up feeling like wet dirty laundry! Enough said.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
According to NSF and Sleep Health Foundation, 7 to 9 hours sleep per night is recommended for adults ages 18 to 64, 7 to 8 hours for adults 65+, 8 to 10 hours for youth ages 14 to 17, and 9 to 11 hours for children ages 6 to 13.
Surveys indicate that about one-third of the population don’t get enough sleep, and 6 out of 10 kids grade 6 to 12 are not meeting the recommended amount of sleep. The good news is we can benefit from increasing sleep time by as little as 16 to 23 minutes. So, skipping social media scrolling time at night seems like a great strategy.
Good Sleep Habits
To sleep like a baby every night, here are some tried and true habits to develop if you want to feel and perform like a billion bucks during your waking hours:
- Stick to the same sleep schedule everyday (yes even on weekends).
- No caffeine after 10am and alcohol before bed time (bye bye nightcap).
- Eat dinner early and keep it light.
- Sleep in a dark, cool room.
- Meditate or develop a relaxation routine before bed.
- Go screen free 60 to 90 minutes before bed.
- Get outside for at least 30 minutes daily and get exposed to natural daylight.
- If you nap, do it before 5pm and keep it to under 30 minutes.
Other Helpful Sleep Tips
With the growing interest and research on sleep optimization, there are a ton of pharmaceuticals and technologies designed to help you sleep better.
- - Sleep Tracking Devices - Oura Ring is one that seems to be highly rated for its accuracy and comfort. I am thinking of getting one myself!
- - Apps - There are lots and lots of mindfulness meditation and relaxation apps out there. One potential problem is that it involves using your electronic devices and the blue light emitting from your screen may counteract the desired relaxation response. I personally use a guided meditation app called 10 Percent Happier and make sure the screen is turned off and my device is some distance away while I listen to the guided meditation.
- - Sleep Accessories - There are now smart beds and pillows that are designed to help cool your body down for optimal sleep. Moona pillow is one I’ve heard about. If you have tried one, I’d love to hear your experience with it!
- - Sleeping Pills or Supplements - Research on most sleeping pills or aids reported that while it may help you fall asleep, but are ineffective in ensuring adequate sleep quality and quantity.
- - Sleep Friendly Foods - Some foods contain nutrients that are connected to muscle relaxation or melatonin release that may help you sleep better. Examples include turkey, fish, oatmeal, eggs, kiwi, cherry juice and walnuts.
In a competitive, fast-paced society like the one we live in, many of us wear sleep deprivation like a badge of honor or think of it as a price we have to pay to be worthy of success. I hope this article will help bring you back to what’s backed by science and have you prioritizing a great night’s sleep like your life depends on it. Sweet dreams!
- Hosford, B., You Are How You Sleep: The Cost of Sleep Deprivation, IDEA Fitness Journal, April, 2019.
- You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep And It’s Killing You