When you think of the word wellness, sleep may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Sure, “diet”, “organic”, maybe even “exercise” are obvious wellness words but what about sleep? For any wellness goal to be achieved you need the foundation of a good night’s sleep. Springing forward may feel subtle, but it’s one to two hours of extra shuteye is imperative to our cognitive functioning and brain chemistry.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic. Recent research suggests that teenagers may be suffering the most—although many adults are sleep deprived. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health called the problem “The Great Sleep Recession” according to a new study published in Pediatrics. They surveyed more than 270,000 teens and found teens are not getting enough sleep.
The average amount is seven hours a night for teens, which is two hours less than the nine hours recommended. Researchers feel that internet and social media use creates barriers to getting quality sleep. The same is true for adults.
Feel like you can’t fall into dreamland without the murmur of HGTV in the background? Maybe you’ve noticed a bit of dependent on Netflix or Candy Crush to quiet the noise in in your mind? The use of electronics before bed isn’t helpful—it actually impairs our sleep and makes wellness a difficult goal to achieve.
Facts on Sleep Deprivation
- On days following sleepless nights, you feel hungrier than usual and will crave high-fat, high-calorie foods.
- Your immune system goes downhill fast when you’re tired, meaning you’re more likely to catch a cold.
- When operating on little sleep, you’ll have hard time remembering things, feel less focused, and could even lose brain tissue. The brain repairs itself at night and, without sufficient sleep, it’s unable to do so.
- You are not making enough serotonin—which is likely why you can’t sleep in the first place. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and weight gain.
- You might also suffer from slower reaction times—leading to more accidents and mistakes—hallucinations, and even psychosis for some people.
How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?
We know sleeplessness can cause all kinds of harm to the mind and body no matter how old you are. So how much sleep you and your children need? The National Sleep Foundation issued new recommendations on how much sleep we should all be getting.
They are based on a review of research and a consensus from a group of 18 experts in sleep, science, physiology and medicine.
• Newborns (0 to 3 months) — 14 to 17 hours per day
• Infants (4 to 11 months) — 12 to 15 hours per day
• Toddlers (1 to 2 years old) — 11 to 14 hours per day
• Preschoolers (3 to 5 years old) — 11 to 14 hours per day
• School age (6 to 13 years old) — 9 to 11 hours per day
• Teens (14 to 17 years old) — 8 to 10 hours per day
• Younger adults (18 to 25 years old) — 7 to 9 hours per day
• Adults (26 to 64 years old) — 7 to 9 hours per day
• Older adults (65 and older) — 7 to 8 hours per day
9 Tips for Better Sleep
Sleep deprivation isn’t reversed after a weekend of sleeping in or a few days of R&R. A pill or a trip to the doctor wont heal the problem. It takes a multifaceted approach to retraining your brain and body. There are many proven and effective ways to get quality and sufficient sleep with a little willpower and patience.
1) Mindfulness. A new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine says mindful meditation helps adults fall asleep and stay asleep. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that mindfulness is key in retraining your brain. The researchers at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, recently found that adults who used mindful meditation ended up sleeping better than those who just practiced sleep hygiene techniques. (link to mindful mediation)
2) Ask yourself “what’s keeping me up?” The absence of distractions before bed make it easy for anxiety, fear and worry thoughts to creep up at night. Our fast-paced lives make it easy to push away intense emotions by focusing on to-do lists, work, kids, google, gossip, you name it, but at night your brain is more vulnerable. These thoughts come up now because your brain is trying to get you to get rid of them. Don’t fall victim to worry thoughts, instead listen throughout the day. Try to set mindful breaks during the day to check-in with yourself. If the worries are too intense keep a journal by your bed so you don’t forget them, instead you can put on paper (out of your mind) and look at them in the morning. If you are noticing that anxiety is too overwhelming, seek out the help of a therapist or psychologist to help.
3) Brain Chemistry. Approximately 40 percent of people who suffer from insomnia also have depression. The sleep/wake cycle is regulated by a complex biological process that works like an internal clock. Within our brain, the hypothalamus, our body’s anatomic time keeper, is central to the release of the chemical melatonin. Melatonin helps to regulate the sleep/wake cycle—but your body needs to learn how to make it on its own. Several neurotransmitter systems play a role as well. You can test and repair these levels with us at Neurogistics. This includes the Serotonergic, Dopaminergic, Acteylcholinergic, and Norepinephrenergic neurons. When you test your neurotransmitter levels, you are able to find the systems that are out of balance. Once they are in the process of being repaired, sleep will improve.
4) Stick a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
5) Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
6) Don’t nap! If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
7) Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. Avoid blue light (computer, cellphone and television at least an hour before bed as it stimulates your brain). This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
8) Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Alcohol and cigarettes disrupt your brain chemistry, leading to hyperactivity and anxiety.
9) Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
What helps you sleep? Share your wellness recommendations below!
Take Good Care, Emily Roberts and Neurogistics Staff
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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