During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are realizing that the proverb, “The greatest health is wealth,” rings true. Now more than ever, we should focus on those lifestyle behaviors that make the highest deposits into our banks of good health. Research reveals adequate sleep is among those behaviors needing more attention. After all, restful sleep is essential for optimal immune function.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that almost 70 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep problem, and 35% of us sleep less than 7 hours each night. Sleep problems can range from mild issues, such as early waking, or more serious medical problems, including obstructive sleep apnea. Invasive light from our digital devices, unhealthy eating patterns and disruptions in our sleep environment are among the key disruptors that decrease the quality and duration of our slumber.
Why is sleep important?
Protecting our sleep is critical to our physical and psychological recuperation. Much like a computer, during sleep our brains delete useless files and organize other files to consolidate memory from the day and work on solutions to unresolved issues. Furthermore, during rest our brain is removing waste products of metabolism, which accelerate the aging process. Without restorative sleep, research has shown that the consequences of a single stressful event can impair the immune system, as well as decrease alertness and accuracy in performing skilled tasks. In order to perform each of our daily responsibilities at an optimal level, our bodies need 7 to 8 hours of rest each night.
How can I enhance my sleep?
Physical exercise during the day can enhance sleep quality while improving other key aspects of our health. However, it is recommended that we try to limit intense exercise within two hours of going to sleep, as it may disrupt our circadian rhythms or the sleep-to-wake cycle. In addition, what is good for your heart is good for your brain, too, so a well-balanced diet low in simple sugars and added fats, but rich in fruits and vegetables is a big part of a healthy sleep recipe. Lastly, develop a pre-sleep ritual that includes a consistent schedule and attention to details. Simulate dusk by turning down the lights, implement a digital curfew by turning off your devices and create a peaceful sanctuary in your bedroom with a comfortable temperature. Remove any distracting items, such as televisions and laptops, from the room.
In his book “Outliers,” research journalist Malcom Gladwell describes the “10,000 Hour Rule,” which implies that at least 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” is needed to be world class in any field. By this logic, we already have the basic training we need to get better sleep — it’s just a matter of putting it into practice. Your pillow is waiting.
Find more tips and resources to manage and maintain your and your family’s health here.