NOTE:This is a post from 2014, updated with new information and sources, including the section below called “Trouble sleeping?” I am more convinced than ever that chronic fatigue from lack of sleep can cause a myriad of unwanted physical and psychological issues. If you're not getting enough sleep, please read this.
Sleep is more than just sweet dreams
If you follow me on Facebook,* you know I often post articles and quotes about the importance of sleep. I know getting enough sleep is essential to good health, but it is one of the things I have struggled with for years. I have a hard time letting go of the day, getting up from the computer, thinking I can do just one more thing before I shut things down. Over time, I've gotten used to being chronically under-rested to the point that it was my “normal.”
But I've had a couple of things happen lately that have reinforced my need to focus on getting more sleep. The first was listening to some of the wonderful interviews that Darren Hardy includes on a CD inside every issue of Success Magazine. On the same day, I heard him interview two different people. One was a former professional athlete who now does fitness consulting for other professional athletes. The other is a woman who founded a nutrition and fitness company and products. Darren asked each of them what their one most important piece of health advice would be to an ordinary person just trying to improve their health. They each said, “Be sure to get enough sleep.”
So I've been on a mission to get to bed earlier and sleep between eight and nine hours for the last two weeks. Here are my happy results:
- I feel more alert from the time I wake up instead of pushing through a fog until my coffee kicks in.
- I feel more positive and happy all day long. The sense of well-being is definitely stronger.
- I handle stress more evenly.
- I feel more creative.
- I've dropped three pounds after being stuck at one weight for awhile in spite of healthy eating. Researchers believe this to be related to an improved hormone balance from good sleep habits.
The invisible benefits of sleep
Researchers have uncovered even more—less visible—benefits of getting enough sleep:
- Increased resistance to cancer and heart disease
- Reduced stress hormones which cause inflammation
- Improved memory – this is thought to be related to the neural processes and linkages that occur during sleep.
- Giving the body time to repair itself – cells produce more protein when you sleep, and protein is what allows cells to repair themselves.
How much is enough sleep?
So as part of understanding yourself and improving your maximum health, I urge you to experiment with different amounts of sleep and see what's best for you. The standard recommendation is 7-9 hours. For me, the sweet spot is between 8 and 8-1/2. Be honest with yourself. Most of us can get by for months or years with less sleep than is ideal, but when we really get enough sleep for a few nights, the difference in our quality of life is quite noticeable.
Some of you may struggle with getting a good night's sleep, even when you're in the bed long enough. This interesting and helpful article—“Mindfulness: An Everyday’s Guide To Being Mindful For Better Sleep And A Balanced Life”—espouses mindfulness as a tool for helping improve the quality of your sleep. Scroll at least halfway down to the section called “Mindfulness and Sleep.” One suggestion they have is to take a holistic approach to your sleep issues rather than look for quick-fix solutions (e.g. sleeping pills):
“A holistic approach to health looks at things like diet and exercise to see how these could be affecting our quality of sleep. How much caffeine are you taking in during the day, are you eating well and making good food choices? Are you getting enough exercise during the day? Mind health, too, is an important piece of this puzzle.”
The same article also suggests some bedtime routines that might be helpful. I know that when I stare at my computer screen until right before bedtime, I sleep very restlessly.
The Sleep Foundation also has some tips in “What To Do When You Can't Sleep.” Some swear by various breathing exercises, but I haven't found them so helpful.
Do you have sleep issues? Have you found anything that helps? Please share with us in the comments below.
Photo credit: “Sleeping Woman and Dog” by Igor Normann via Dollar Photo Club, a now-closed stock photography site.
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