If you make only one New Year’s resolution this year, make it this one, because it can affect everything else. It’s something that comes instinctively to babies. Our dogs and cats are experts. The rest of us aren’t so good at it. The biggest excuse is that we simply don’t have enough time. We need to squeeze more hours out of our day. What’s the harm in skimping on sleep? A little energy drink, a caffeine jolt, and sheer determination will see us through, right? Wrong. On so many levels.
You really need a good night’s sleep to be at your best physically and mentally. Making this one adjustment, this one resolution to improve your sleep habits, can help you achieve your other goals. And making sure your children get an adequate amount of sleep will help their bodies and brains develop. They’ll probably do better in school and have fewer behavioral problems, too.
Individual sleep needs vary throughout our lifetime. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), newborns need about 16 to 18 hours a day, and preschoolers need between 11 and 12 hours. Older children and teens should get at least 10 hours, and adults generally need about seven to nine hours. Few of us are getting the amount of sleep we need.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), our brains are very active during sleep, performing vital tasks that help our nervous systems work correctly. Sleep helps our brains get ready for a new day. It improves our decision-making skills and emotional and social functioning. In children, growth hormones are released during sleep.
It’s obvious you’re not getting enough sleep when you fall asleep in your chair at work, but there are more subtle signs that we tend to ignore. Poor concentration and memory, drowsiness, and impaired physical performance are signs that we need more sleep than we’re getting. If you’re falling asleep during the day, chances are you’re not getting the sleep you need at night. Sleep deprivation can cause mood swings and even lead to hallucinations. Here are a few other problems linked to lack of sleep:
- weakened immune system
- high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke
- kidney disease
- weight gain, obesity
- injuries due to falls
- car accidents due to driver drowsiness
The road to a better night’s sleep begins with good sleep hygiene. That’s your nighttime routine, and it’s as good an idea for adults as it is for children.
- try to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
- avoid alcohol, caffeine, and food for a few hours before bedtime
- exercise during the day, but not too close to bedtime
- do something relaxing before bed – read something pleasant, take a warm bath, perform deep breathing techniques or meditation, etc.
- remove all electronic devices from the bedroom– tone down the light on your digital clock or turn it away from your face
- make your bedroom a no-stress zone – it should be a relaxing atmosphere free of work-related clutter
- use comfortable sheets, blankets, and pillows
- keep the room at a comfortable temperature
If you have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, insomnia, or a physical problem that interferes with sleep, see your primary care doctor or specialist. Remember, a healthy diet and daily exercise will encourage slumber at night.
Feel better. Look better. Perform better. When your brain and body are fully rested, you’ll feel physically and emotionally stronger — and ready to tackle all those other resolutions.