We’ve all heard the adage that for optimal health, you should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night. For many people, whether due to stress, a non-stop work schedule or to-do list a mile long, 8 hours of sleep a night is rarely possible. So how important is this recommendation? Have you ever wondered what effects sleep deprivation has on the body and brain? It can be much more serious that feeling tired or unfocused.
Last December, a Metro North Train derailed in the Bronx. The train was traveling over 80mph into a curve where the posted speed was 30 mph. The engineer was experienced and had made this commute many times. So what could have led to this terrible accident? According to new reports, the engineer was tired and fell asleep at the wheel. Biologically speaking, lack of enough, quality sleep affects the brain in many ways including impaired judgment, slowed reactions and an increase in the likelihood of drifting off to sleep during monotonous activities.
For most people, there are immediate signs that we recognize as being attributed to lack of sleep; feeling groggy and unfocused, reaching for caffeine or praying for some time to find to nap. However, there are other signs that are harder to notice: obesity, memory loss, damaged bones, obesity and higher risks for diabetes, heart attack, stroke and cancer are all possible from prolonged sleep deprivation.
So how little is too little? According to the National Sleep Foundation, getting less than six hours of sleep per night on a regular basis is a serious problem and can lead to the aforementioned health problems. In fact, getting less than six hours of sleep at night can be serious enough to change your genes. In one study, researchers took blood samples from a group of people who were getting less than six hours of sleep and after just one week, the tests showed changes to more than 700 genes, due to sleep deprivation alone. And according to the CDC, nearly 30% of Americans report getting less than six hours of sleep per night.
The good news is that for many, some simple lifestyle changes, without the use of medication, will greatly impact our quality and length of sleep. And just as the effects of sleep deprivation can be noticed quickly, so too are the positive effects of sound sleep.
Here are some ways to get better sleep:
- Make sure that your bedroom is for sleeping. Ensure that the room is dark, cool and quiet and banish electronics of all kind from your bedroom. TVs, computers and other electronics send messages that stimulate the brain and disrupt your internal clock
- Develop a pre-bedtime ritual. Take a hot bath or sip a cup of warm tea. Either of these will raise your core body temperature, leading to a drowsy feeling as you cool down
- Try not to self-medicate. Over the counter and prescription sleep aids will not fix your insomnia and often lead to difficulty waking up and excessive tiredness the next day. And don’t choose a glass of wine or other alcohol as a way to relax. Alcohol may help you to feel relaxed and sleepy for awhile but it leads to waking in the night.
- If you are having trouble sleeping, try not to think about the way the sleeplessness will affect you. This just tends to make the problem worse. But if you can’t escape the thoughts that are keeping you awake, get out of bed and go to a “safe room”. Do not turn on lights, computers or TVs in the room, just try to relax. This technique helps you to not associate your bedroom with frustration.
- Finally, exercise, but not too close to bedtime. Exercise is a wonderful way to promote sleep.
If you are still experiencing sleeplessness, speaking to your doctor is always a good idea. There are more and more drug-free treatment plans available today than ever before and you are sure to find that much needed relaxation and path to quality sleep and enhanced well-being.
For information on the brain-body connection and how Chiropractic Neurology can help you or a loved one, please contact Dr. Marc Ellis at the Georgia Chiropractic Neurology Center for a consultation today.