Sleep – The Best Medicine

If you’ve ever wondered if sleep is important, just hang out with a two year old who hasn’t had a nap and you will find your answer.  They are cranky, restless, lack focus, and are all around annoyed and unhappy with their surroundings.  They fight sleep; afraid they will miss something.  But, as the Dalai Lama once said, “Sleep is the best medication.”  Give that two year old a dose of sleep and they are good to go!

Like children, we often find ourselves fighting sleep as well.  Maybe not out of fear that we will miss something; but in an effort to get our to-do list completed.  But much like a child, we also cannot fully focus when we are tired.  We make mistakes, lack good judgement and get easily confused.  Studies have shown that lack of sleep affects our cognition; we are substantially worse at solving logic or math problems when we are sleep-deprived.  Not only do we feel forgetful and out of focus when we are tired, we can suffer memory loss.  Without adequate sleep, our brain cannot correctly process and store our memories from the day, resulting in lost or skewed memory.

We are also more prone to injuries and accidents when our focus is obscured.  “The Institute of Medicine estimates that one out of five auto accidents in the U.S. results from drowsy driving — that’s about 1 million crashes a year.” Any accident is more likely to occur when you are tired.  That 2 year old is much more likely to fall when he/she is exhausted.  If you want to be safe and at the top of your game, then a good night’s sleep is top priority.

In addition, better sleep equals better health.  People who get sufficient sleep have stronger immune systems.  In our Psychology class, we learned that mice deprived of sleep would often result in the animal succumbing to sickness and in some cases, even death.  The researchers would allow the mouse to sleep, but wake it prior to REM sleep.  In almost all cases, the mouse would become sick and die within three weeks.  Scientist still do not fully understand why sleep is so imperative to good health, but numerous studies have shown that chronic lack of sleep can have devastating health consequences; including serious medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and a potentially shorter life span.  If can affect the way the body processes glucose and upsets hormone production, which could lead to these life threatening conditions.

A good night’s sleep is not only associated with better overall health, but with less pain.  If you are recovering from an injury or have chronic pain, getting enough sleep could actually make you hurt less.  Unfortunately, pain may make it difficult to obtain a comfortable sleeping position, so a pain reliever combined with a sleep aid may be necessary to get the adequate amount sleep.

So, what can we do to ensure we get a good night’s sleep?

  1. Use a good pillow. Pillows can help keep your spine and neck in alignment.  The pillow should support the natural curve of your neck and be comfortable.  You can also try a leg pillow for back pain.  Using a pillow between your legs helps align your hips and reduce back stress.
  2. Remove the distractions. Turn off your television, electronic devices and the lights.
  3. Try to refrain from naps during the day. If you must take a nap, keep it to twenty minutes.  If you are in an energy slump, try walking around or drinking a glass of water rather than napping.  Let the two year old take a nap though!
  4. Cover or turn your alarm clock so that it’s not within view. Checking to see what time it is can be distracting as your mind races to determine how much time you have left to sleep or the activities of the day.
  5. Don’t overheat or freeze yourself during the night. Keep the thermostat between 68° and 72° Fahrenheit for optimal sleep.
  6. Train your brain to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day (yes, even on weekends). This will get you into a healthy sleep routine.
  7. Avoid caffeine throughout the day. That morning cup of coffee won’t wreck your sleep cycle, but try to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening hours.
  8. Exercise regularly. Don’t exercise too close to bed time though.  Exercise gives us a burst of energy, so try to keep the workouts at least three to four hours prior to heading to bed.
  9. Don’t eat heavy meals late at night. It can overload your digestive system and affect how you sleep.
  10. Don’t drink alcohol. Although alcohol will make you sleepy, it can lead to restless sleep and waking up more frequently throughout the night.
  11. Sorry guys, but keep the pets out of bed. A pet’s movements can wake you up and allergens such as dander and fur can disrupt sleep.
  12. Relax and clear you mind. Don’t think about tomorrow’s tasks, set everything aside and do something calming, such as reading a book or taking a warm shower.2

If you have a good night’s sleep, you are free to dream; and when you wake up you can chase those dreams!  Just remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “Early to bed and early to rise; makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”  While I can’t assure you that it will make you wealthy, it is most certainly wise and will go a long way in helping keep you healthy.

Sleep – The Best MedicineReferences:

  1. 9 Surprising Reasons to Get More Sleep.  Morgan Griffin.  Retrieved 11/21/2017 from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/9-reasons-to-sleep-more#2
  2. 20 Tips to Reduce Your Sleep Problems 20 Tips to Reduce Your Sleep Problems 20 Tips to Reduce Your Sleep Problems20 Tips to Reduce Your Sleep problems https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/discomfort-15/better-sleep/slideshow-sleep-tips
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