The end of the year is almost upon us, which means that this is the time that we begin to run around like crazy, trying to get everything done on our lists. Between gift shopping, holiday functions, traveling, and/or school finals, this is a busy time for virtually everyone. Many times, our sleep schedule suffers because of it.
Sleep is largely underrated. It's estimated that over a third of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep in a typical 24 hour period, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Sleep module. People think that skimping on sleep every once in a while isn't a big deal. Unfortunately, "once in a while" becomes a habit; and this habit could kill you.
Hazards of Insufficient Sleep
1. Motor Vehicle Crashes
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that fatigue is a cause in 100,000 automobile crashes and 1,550 crash-related deaths per year in the U.S., with the greatest problem being with people aged 25 years and younger.
2. Cognitive Impairment
Sleep plays a vital role in various mental processes. Lack of sleep hurts your ability to think and learn by impairing attention, concentration, alertness, reasoning, and problem-solving. Additionally, getting enough sleep is critical in long term memory function. If you don't get enough sleep, you won't be able to remember later what you learned that day.
Insomnia has a strong link to depression. A 2005 Sleep in America poll found that people diagnosed with depression or anxiety were more likely to get less than six hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep can lead to the symptoms of depression, and even make it harder to fall asleep, exacerbating the problem. On the other hand, improving sleep habits may help to reduce or reverse the symptoms of depression.
4. Premature Aging
Lack of sleep causes extra cortisol (a stress hormone) to be released in your body. Cortisol can begin to break down the collagen in skin when it is released in excess amounts. Therefore, chronic sleep loss can lead to dull skin, wrinkles, and dark under eye circles. Sleep also helps to repair tissues and other structures, so your body can't properly strengthen bones or increase muscle mass if you are sleep deprived.
5. Weight Gain
Lack of sleep may be connected with an increase in appetite and hunger. Shortened sleep is associated with an increase in the hormone that makes you hungry, and a decrease in the hormone that lets you feel satiated. As if that weren't bad enough, the foods you crave when you're tired tend to be high in fat and carbohydrates. All of this can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Lack of sleep is associated with chronic diseases and conditions such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart failure
Tips for Successful Sleep
If you're having trouble sleeping, the following are some things that you can do:
- Fix a bedtime. Be consistent with your bedtime. You will help to train your mind and body that it should be getting tired at a certain time, making it easier to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime. The effects of caffeine may take several hours to subside, making it difficult to fall asleep.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise in the morning or afternoon can help deepen sleep. However, be weary of exercising before bed, as your body is active for a period of time even after you work out.
- Make your sleeping environment comfortable. Use comfortable bedding, making sure the temperature is moderate and the room well ventilated, reserving the bed for sleep only, and blocking out excess noise.
- Establish a pre-bed routine. This could include reading a book (not on your phone, as this stimulates the brain and may keep you from falling asleep easily), a personal hygiene routine, writing in your journal, etc.
- Practice relaxation methods. Try meditation, deep breathing techniques, and/or stretching routines prior to going to bed or while trying to fall asleep.