As we turn the calendar page to the new year, will you be reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future? Are you making plans and setting goals for how you will get there?
According to the Harris Poll, the most common New Year’s resolutions Americans make are related to improving their health and finances. While the most common health areas Americans focus on are eating healthier (29%), losing weight (24%), and drinking more water (21%), there is another health goal that is a critical part of your overall well-being…sleep. In fact, improving your sleep will not only make an impact on many parts of your life right now, but also for decades to come!
UNDERSTANDING SLEEP & WELL-BEING
Many Americans are over-stimulated and under-rested. We are surviving on a routine of computer and cell phone use throughout the day for work, followed by even more late-night tech activities to unwind. We then use early morning jolts of caffeine to wake ourselves up after insufficient and unrestful sleep, possibly followed by more caffeine during the day to stay awake.
When your body lacks sleep, you are more likely to:
- Eat excess calories
- Skip exercise
- Fall or have other accidents
- Suffer from mood swings
- Have difficulty thinking and concentrating
- Experience a reduced sex drive
This means that not only is your lack of sleep impacting your energy levels and ability to focus, but also how you feel, the choices you make, and how you are able to manage your emotions.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING SLEEP?
While scientists still don’t know precisely what is occurring inside the brain when we sleep, research demonstrates that our sleep health is tied to our:
- Cardiovascular (heart) health
- Immune system function (ability to guard against sickness)
- Metabolism (ability to burn calories from food)
- Brain health
In fact, sleep is the primary health behavior that is tied to all other systems in the body. If you consistently experience sleep deprivation, you will be at increased risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more. While you may not realize it, when you are asleep, your body’s primary functions are altered including your:
- Breathing rate and pattern
- Heart rate
- Hormone production and regulation
- Brain activity
Your body automatically slows, and then later quickens, all these involuntary activities when you sleep. In fact, the processes occurring during sleeping are quite complex, moving into different stages throughout the night.
One of the key functions we know about is, that while you are asleep, your brain is optimizing the consolidation of information into memory. This is a fancy way of saying your brain is turning short-term memories into long-term memories and erasing or forgetting unneeded information. Your brain also has a waste removal function (glymphatic system) that removes toxic byproducts and waste produced by your central nervous system throughout the day. This is important because it allows your body to perform better when it wakes the next day. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain will struggle with concentrating, processing new information, and remembering it in the future.
Basically, sleep is a time for your brain to clean and repair itself. Poor sleep health not only has immediate impacts the next day, but it may also impact your future health in a variety of ways.
QUALITY SLEEP & HEALTH PREVENTION
The American Psychological Association’s review of the National Sleep Foundation’s surveys (1999-2004) reveals that over 40% of adults are experiencing daytime sleepiness that is severe enough to interfere with daily activities at least a few days each month. Even if your sleep loss isn’t so severe that it is interfering with your ability to perform your normal daily activities, you are still likely periodically experiencing insufficient sleep that is negatively impacting your health—leaving you with room for improvement.
Think of the impact insufficient or poor sleep has on all the systems in your body, especially your brain health. Now, fast forward to age 70 or 80 and visualize who you are. What do you think your future self would tell you about how you feel? Or about the health challenges you are facing? If your future self could talk to you right now, you would likely tell you how important it is for you to prioritize sleep more than you are—because decades of insufficient sleep is likely going to increase your risk for several diseases and may also negatively impact your body weight, hormones, stress, and more.
Your future self would also likely encourage you to prioritize your sleep by:
Establishing a healthy sleep environment in your home by:
- Creating a clean, clutter-free room.
- Maintaining a cool air temperature of approximately 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Sleeping in breathable sheets and pajamas that wick moisture away from your body.
- Investing in a high-quality mattress and pillows that support your body position in bed.
- Closing the kitchen each night at least an hour before bed, which includes abstaining from alcohol.
Establishing a bedtime routine that helps your body identify it is time to unwind by:
- Relaxing your mind: play quiet music or a calming story/podcast.
- Relaxing your muscles: self massage with a roller or gentle yoga.
- Reducing stimulation: turn off electronics that emit blue light (iPad, cell phone, TV, computer screen, etc.) and dim overhead lights at least 45 minutes before bed.
- Addressing thirst and hunger: choose a cup of caffeine-free tea or water if you are thirsty—and try to keep eating to a 10-hour window daily, which means minimal snacking after dinner. If you are hungry, focus on healthy foods as you get closer to bedtime that may boost your melatonin levels and help you sleep (yogurt, tart cherries, and nuts).
- Following a consistent bedtime and waking time each day.
- Exercising daily, but not in the evening hours right before bedtime.
Prioritizing your sleep this year is a big step towards protecting your health and well-being today, as well as the health of your future self. Not only will you be allowing your brain to repair itself and build new pathways to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer, stroke, and diabetes, but you will also be supporting hormone production, your immune system, and neurological function. This means you will reduce your likelihood of:
- Becoming sick
- Gaining excess weight
- Having a heart attack or stroke
- Experiencing a fall or other type of accident…and more.
Sleeping and breathing are the two activities your body requires each day for survival. Our sleep experts at Brooklyn Bedding are here to help support you in prioritizing your sleep for the new year and beyond. Take steps today to protect your future health, and feel free to check out some of our other posts for additional tips on improving your sleep health.
- Birth, Alyssa. “Americans Look to Get Their Bodies and Wallets in Shape with New Year's Resolutions.” The Harris Poll, 21 Apr. 2018, theharrispoll.com/january-is-coming-to-a-close-and-we-are-officially-one-month-into-a-new-year-for-many-this-marks-a-time-of-change-and-fresh-starts-and-for-some-this-comes-in-the-form-of-new-years-resoluti/.
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- “Why Sleep Is Important and What Happens When You Don't Get Enough.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, October 2008. www.apa.org/topics/sleep/why.
- Brennan, Dan. “6 Foods High in Melatonin and Why You Need It.” WebMD, WebMD, 22 Oct. 2020, www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-melatonin.
- “Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency.
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