Which is more important; how much you sleep, or with whom? You can smile before answering. Yet the question does raise this issue: How much better could your life be if you slept eight full hours every night?
After reading so many articles and brochures on staying healthy and active and after going to many workshops and fundraisers focused on STD/HIV prevention, it seems to me that one of the best ways to live a more healthy life is overlooked by almost everybody.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is as important for good health as a balanced diet and frequent exercise. When we sleep, our bodies rest and self-repair, but our brains are active. Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to function well the next day.
A 2002 poll of adults by the National Sleep Foundation found the average woman in America age 30 to 60 sleeps only six hours and 41 minutes Sunday thru Thursday nights. Due to the biological factors of menopause, pregnancy, and menstrual cycles, women are more likely than men to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep all night long.
Research has shown that too little sleep results in daytime sleepiness, increased accidents, problems concentrating, poor performance in school and at work, as well as a weakened immune system and weight gain. On the other hand, people who get enough good sleep also get a stronger immune system, better memory, a slowed aging process and a stronger sex drive.
With such good benefits from getting the reccommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, it is odd that so few people manage to put the stress, pressures and pleasures of life in check to get the rest we need. In the book Power Sleep by Jim Ross there is even a scientific term used to describe that phenomena. Maladaptive conditioning is the ability to condition yourself to sleep less than your body needs and to be unaware of your own reduced capabilities, and to become used to a persistently lower level of mental alertness and physical stamina. Many people no longer know what it is like to be fully alert all day. To make matters worse, if our friends and associates have fooled themselves into thinking they are OK, when in fact they are under maladaptive conditioning also, we are all less alert but think we are all OK, when we are not. Drinking an extra pot of coffee a day, making caffeine your drug of choice, is no substitute for the real thing ... eight hours of sleep every night.
In fact 18 continuous hours without sleep gives you the physical equivalent of a .05 blood alcohol content; 24 hours without sleep and you walk around with the physical equivalent of a .10 blood alcohol content. Drinking a beer after being awake for 24 continuous hours has the impact of drinking a six pack.
The season from Halloween to New Year's Eve features long hours for people in retail sales, intense study for school midterms and social pressure on all of us to be sociable and to participate in parties around several holiday celebrations. Don't let the night before Christmas be your only restful one.
How do you get the most restful night of sleep? The National Sleep Foundation/Better Sleep Council says you can improve your health and overall quality of life by adhering to these 10 tips to better sleep. 1. Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends, allowing seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. 2. Establish a regular relaxing routine of soothing activities in the hours just before bedtime, such as soaking in a hot bath, reading a book or listening to soothing music. 3. Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool, around 65 degrees. 4. Sleep on a mattress that is supportive but with a soft top to minimize loss of blood circulation to your arm when you are sleeping on your side. 5. Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleep environment. 6. Finish eating at least two hours before your regular bed time. 7. Exercise regularly and vigorously. It is best to complete your workout at least three hours before bed time. 8. Avoid caffeine ( coffee, tea, chocolate or soft drinks ) close to bedtime, it can keep you awake. 9. Avoid nicotine ( cigarettes and tobacco products ) . Used close to bed time, it can lead to restless sleep. Never smoke in bed due to the fire hazard. 10. Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. It can lead to disrupted sleep later in the night.
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