The science is indisputable: If you want to be healthy, productive and win at life, you need to get enough sleep. There’s no way around it. Luckily, it’s easier thank you think to improve your quality of sleep.
BY MICHAEL SCHUTZ, MD
Before I entered med school, I used to think of sleep as a passive activity. I would quickly learn it’s quite complex. If you can regularly get enough sleep, you could expect to improve virtually every marker of health. If you fail to regularly get enough sleep, the list of negative consequences to your health are seemingly endless, and I’ll outline those here.
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to be properly rested, but this does not have to be all at once. Studies show that it can be divided into several three- to four-hour segments, so if you typically wake up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, don’t worry. Just keep the lights low, resist the urge to check your phone for anything, and go right back to bed when you’re done.
Sleep and wakefulness are influenced by different chemicals that affect neurotransmitters in the brain. Alcohol impairs the deeper stages of sleep including REM. Caffeine, diet pills, decongestants, and nicotine can stimulate areas of the brain and contribute to insomnia. Anxiety and depression both can contribute to sleep disorders.
Sleep deprivation can predispose one to diabetes, depression, hypertension, stroke and obesity. Lack of sleep can affect many hormones including cortisol (a stress hormone), insulin, and the hormones that control hunger and satiety leptin and ghrelin. Inadequate sleep leads to a higher level of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and lower levels of leptin which can lead to abnormally increased hunger. If left unchecked, these changes can lead to glucose intolerance, the precursor for diabetes. The lack of deep sleep reduces the release of growth hormone and immune system function.
Lack of sleep can also lead to cognitive impairment, learning difficulties, problems with motor tasks like driving and difficulty reading others’ emotions. The U.S. government estimates that sleepiness is a factor in 100,000 car accidents per year and 1,500 deaths.
There are a few simple things you can do to improve sleep every night. Make your bedroom a device-free zone. If you have a TV on your dresser, move it out. Don’t take tablets or phones to your bedside, either. If you want to read, and I recommend that you do to relax your mind, read printed books or magazines. The light from tablets and phones can stimulate your central nervous system, meaning even if you fall asleep reading on your phone or tablet, your chances of waking up too soon increase. Your bedroom should be for sleep and intimacy.
Lastly, keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. These will promote uninterrupted sleep. Keep a consistent bedtime, as well, which should include time to wind down before sleep.
You might have developed poor sleep habits when you were younger. We all do it. But if you don’t take these simple, easy steps to correct those habits, you’re putting yourself at risk for serious health issues, not to mention limiting your effectiveness in basic day-to-day tasks.
Dr. Michael Schutz is a urologist practicing at the Jersey Urology Group in Somers Point, NJ.