Let’s face it – most people these days thrive on caffeine to get through a brain-fudgy day. In such a busy world, it is so easy to want to sacrifice sleep to have more time to do other activities or errands. In fact, 42% of all healthy, middle-aged women report some kind of sleep trouble, including difficulty falling asleep, awaking during the night, or not feeling refreshed in the morning.
But sleep is essential! The journal, SLEEP, did a study that found too little sleep (less than 5 hours per night) may increase your risk of abdominal fat, versus those who got at least 6 hours of zzz’s per night.
Not only that, but it is during our visit to lullaby-land that some of our most important immune system functions occur, along with some important antioxidant activity. How much sleep do you need? Sadly, there’s no “magic number” that’s cookie-cutter perfect for everyone. But the Sleep Foundation says the average adult can use 7-8 hours nightly as a rule of thumb, then adjust from there based on the individual. Note when you feel really well-rested versus feeling tired or foggy. The Sleep Foundation goes on to say that researchers are learning about two factors to a person’s needs: basal sleep needs, and sleep debt. Basal needs are how much your body needs on a regular, average basis. The sleep debt is what it sounds like – any extra rest you may need after skimping on sleep in the past, sickness, disrupted sleeping, etc. The good news is they say over time, you CAN pay off sleep debt and get back to a healthy cycle!
Healthy sleep is a complex issue and takes both mind and body into consideration. So yes, you may have more trouble sleeping if you’re stressed or anxious. You may have trouble waking if you’re depressed or ill. Poor blood sugar control or cortisol burn-out can cause waking in the middle of the night. Some things you may have little control over (noisy neighbors, for example) but other things you can control: Environment, exercise, nutrition.
You may think a heavy meal will be an enjoyable way to give yourself a ticket to food-coma land, but like the alcohol, it is not actually restorative sleep. You may feel tired after a large meal, but your body actually goes in to over-time – your circulatory system is pumping more blood to the digestive tract, your stomach is secreting extra gastric acids while the smooth muscles start roiling and churning for digestion, and your pancreas is spitting out its enzymes. Your body is working hard!
Make sure you eat regularly through the day: don’t eat a huge meal because you neglected to eat, and are trying to “make up” for the missed needs! Instead of trying to “treat” nutritional neglect done during the day, “prevent” it from happening in the first place. Nutrition isn’t really retroactive. It takes time to break down in your body and be utilized – and if you ingest more than your body can handle, it gets excreted or stored as fat.
I know – all easier said than done. So many things that could affect your sleep and your health! So, pick one or two to aim for – if you’re going to have a huge dinner, at least keep it healthy and light; if you’re going to insist on ice cream for dessert, at least try to limit the portion and have it early; if you can’t take that tv out of your room, at least unplug it.
Pick your own goal, but make sure you’re taking care of yourself.