If you’re not sleeping well, your health will suffer. A lack of sleep is a contributing factor to obesity.
I’M A SOLID sleeper. I frequently wish I got more of it, so I’m always happy to go to sleep.
Like most people, I also have nights when I toss and turn, my mind churns and I am miserable. The longer it takes, the more upset I become. I keep checking the time. When I finally fall asleep, the next day I am exhausted. I drink extra coffee, eat sugar and am irritable. Sound familiar?
Sleep is vital to our health. It might seem funny to consider mastering sleep, but there are strategies to support a better night’s rest, says Dr. Matthias Lee, a sleep specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center at Virginia Mason in Seattle. Studies have shown a lack of sleep is a contributing factor to obesity. And you probably don’t feel all that great without a good night’s rest.
Most people had their best sleep when they were 4 to 6 years old, Lee says. You were old enough to sleep through the night. You most likely felt secure and loved. You had few worries when you went to bed.
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How do adults re-create that environment, with job, family and social demands and plenty to worry about? We have to be a little savvier.
It’s important to understand your natural circadian rhythm, Lee says. A job that requires you to be up early does not necessarily make you an early riser. Many people use stimulants like coffee or tea that affect their natural sleep patterns.
Think back to a vacation when you relaxed fully. The time you went to bed and woke up then are good indicators as to whether you’re a night owl, like to get up early or are somewhere in between.
Lee tells patients to consider core sleep needs. Sleep deprivation on a nightly basis adds up, he says. When people are tired, they stop doing things that are healthy for them, like working out, or they eat more in general, including sugar.
Here are some baseline ways to gauge whether your sleep is relatively healthy, according to Lee:
• When you lie down, you can fall asleep within 30 minutes or so. If you wake up, it’s once or twice a night, and you go back to sleep easily.
• When you wake up in the morning, you might be a little bleary-eyed — known as sleep inertia. By the time you take a shower, you are “within the realm of human normalcy,” Lee says.
• You are able to pay attention and stay awake during sedentary activities, like a meeting, watching a television show, driving or reading a book.
Sometimes insomnia is temporary, Lee says. Those people generally can identify something going on, such as a sick kid or work stress. In those cases, you might have a short period of time without good sleep, but it will pass.
Others who have trouble sleeping night after night often can’t identify why they can’t sleep, Lee says. These people don’t sleep well even on vacation. If you are struggling to that degree, Lee recommends seeing a sleep specialist.
There also are sleep secrets. People who work odd shifts often need to adjust their weekend patterns to help them stay alert during their weekday night shift. My favorite from Lee is going to bed early on Monday night rather than Sunday. Most people use the weekend to catch up on sleep, which means you’re frequently rested Sunday night and might not want to go to bed early. Move your early bedtime to Monday, and see whether you have more zip in your week.