Sleep Awareness Week is the time to focus on clocking more zzzz’s
March 11–17 is Sleep Awareness Week. What better time to ask yourself: Am I getting enough sleep? Many of us aren’t. Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night, but the average person sleeps less than 7 hours—and those hours we do get may not be good quality. What is more, it’s estimated that between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. If you’re one of them, or even if you’re just struggling to get in enough hours of rest, there are physical, emotional, and safety reasons to attend to this basic health need.
How to tell if you’re sleep deprived
Here are some telltale signs that you’re not getting enough sleep:
- Do you fall asleep within five minutes of getting into bed at night?
- Do you always need to set an alarm to wake up?
- Do you always hit the “snooze” to get a few extra minutes of sleep?
- Is it hard for you to get out of bed in the morning?
- Do you often feel sluggish in the afternoons?
- Do you get sleepy if the room is warm?
- Do you find yourself wanting to nod off during classes, lectures, or meetings?
- Do you need to nap to feel refreshed?
- Do you want to use your mornings on the weekends to sleep in?
If you answered “yes” to several of these questions, then you may be sleep deprived. Consider changing your sleep habits or trying to get to bed earlier. (See below for more suggestions.)
Why getting sleep matters
There are a lot of reasons to make sure you’re getting adequate sleep. Some of the many risks of sleep deprivation include:
- Depression, moodiness, and irritability
- Relationship problems
- Challenges managing emotions
- Trouble dealing with stress
- Lack of motivation
- Fatigue and feeling lethargic
- Less creativity and problem-solving ability
- Difficulty making decisions
- Lack of concentration
- Difficulty learning
- Trouble recalling memories
- Weakened immune system, resulting in more frequent colds and infections
- Aging prematurely, especially the skin
- Reduced sex drive
- Weight gain
- Impaired motor skills, making car accidents more likely
- Increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and some forms of cancer
- Shortened life expectancy
Sleep for women is even more crucial, since studies have shown that an increased risk of heart disease due to lack of sleep is higher in women than in men.
Factors that affect your sleep
You may be aware of these factors in terms of your overall health, but take another look and consider how they could be interfering with you getting high-quality sleep:
- Alcohol: People who don’t sleep well are more likely to use alcohol—as many as 1 in 5 drink to help them sleep. The problem is that drinking may help you fall asleep, but you are likely to awaken later and have trouble getting back to sleep or staying asleep.
- Caffeine: Drinking coffee, soda, or other drinks with the stimulant caffeine can make it hard to fall asleep. Avoid these drinks in the hours leading up to bedtime, and try to limit your overall intake, even earlier in the day.
- Exercise: Getting enough exercise can help you sleep better. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week—that’s 30 minutes of exercise over 5 days.
- Screen time: The evening hours are a good time to shut down the electronic devices, since the blue light emitted by phones, tablets, computers, and TVs has been shown to interfere with natural sleep patterns. Try listening to some music or an audio book if you need help falling asleep.
Ways to improve your sleep hygiene
Most of us can improve how we’re preparing ourselves for a night of sound sleep. Follow these suggestions to tackle areas where you need help:
- Make sure your bed is comfortable. Choose soft sheets and a mattress that is firm or soft, depending on your preferences.
- Adjust the temperature and light in the room. Curtains should block out the morning light. The room should be comfortably cool, but not cold or stuffy.
- Tend to your stress. Get help with whatever may be causing you anxiety. Confide in a trusted friend or seek out a mental health professional to help you sort out the issues that are keeping you up at night. Make an effort to eat well and exercise, to keep yourself balanced during the day.
- Develop a bedtime routine. Doing something soothing to prepare yourself for bed will help you sleep better. Drink some herbal tea and take a bath or a shower. Some people find meditation can help them “turn their brain off.”
- Use a sleep diary. The best way to know whether you’re getting enough sleep is to track when you fall asleep, when you wake up, and the quality of your sleep in between. There are lots of apps you can download to your phone that will monitor your movements at night. (Just be sure you aren’t tempted to spend time on your phone if it’s in your bedroom.) The National Sleep Foundation has created this PDF to help you keep track of how much sleep you’re getting. (Printing it out and keeping it by the bed can be a less-distracting option.)
Follow some of these recommendations during Sleep Awareness Week, and work towards getting a full 7–9 hours by the end of March. With these new sleep habits, you could become a happier, healthier, and more productive person. So what are you waiting for? Make it a priority now to get some good quality sleep tonight!
This post is part of the weekly blog of the Harris School of Business. We encourage all our students to pursue healthy lifestyles as they work toward their new careers. Reach out to us for more information about our professional training programs, including a career path to becoming a Medical Assistant. Call us at (800)-510-7920 for more information or to schedule a tour of one of our eight campuses in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut.