I try to model the health behaviors that I teach. But this is one area where I am falling short of my goals. I simply do not engineer enough sleep into my schedule. I am writing about this now to put this whole sleep situation under a microscope and see what I can learn.
Here are some important and interesting facts about sleep:
Sleep affects mood, memory, performance and metabolism.
Lack of adequate sleep contributes to obesity.
Most people need between 7.5 and 8.5 hours per night though the range is 5-10.
There are distinct sleep types called owls and larks who keep late and early hours, respectively.
Serious sleeps problems can lead to mental health problems.
Drunk and drowsy driving are equally dangerous.
Wow ! It seems we need to take sleep more seriously. Now more that ever sleep science is a well developed field and is often practiced within the department of Neurology. Furthermore, Sleep Medicine is a well defined field providing diagnosis and help for those in need.
There is a great deal that we ourselves can do to improve our own sleep:
1. Have consistent wake times and betimes, 7 days per week.
2. Have a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine, just like for a child !
3. Avoid all but short naps in the day.
4. Exercise to cardio levels every day.
5. Make your bedroom cool, quiet and dark.
Patients often tell me they cannot sleep because their mind is busy with all their stresses, challenges or projects. I think it is helpful to address these briefly as a written list before the bedtime ritual begins. Then they are dealt with in a constructive way, and thinking about or dealing with the items can be "rescheduled " for the next day.
I realize that I have been thinking about sleep as almost a dispensable luxury. However it is actually a health requirement. Newer research indicates sleep drives the metabolic clearance of the brain. In other words, waste products are cleared from the brain during sleep.
My education, training and profession have trained me to disregard this need, and I realize a little perspective is in order. I am very enthusiastic about other health habits like exercise and nutrition. Thus, I have decided to reclassify sleep from " waste of time " to health habit. I have also played with tracking my hour of sleep. In this way it becomes a goal to shoot for, and I become more determined to meet the goal once I have set it, a strategy like this makes it like a game. This is called " Gamification". This gamification will become easier with new devices and apps coming on the market. But all you really need to make your sleep better is some information and a decision to take action.