Sleep enables us to put our best selves forward, to meet the day and its challenges with open hearts and open minds. It is crucial for physical, mental, and emotional health. Doctors recommend seven to eight hours per night for the average adult and more for children. Sleep ensures optimal brain function; it opens pathways for memory, learning, decision-making, problem solving and attention.
The physical benefits of proper sleep are also significant: hormonal balance, heart and blood vessel repair, weight regulation, and immune system strength, to name a few.
So that’s the good news. But the bad news is that many of us simply do not get enough sleep. Man is the only mammal that willingly delays sleep, and over time, this is harmful. We should take a lesson from our animal brethren and follow our circadian rhythms—the cycles that control the physiological processes of all living organisms, humans included.
Failing to do so could result in the symptoms of of insufficient sleep, such as:
- Drowsiness during the day when engaged in normal activities.
- Inefficiency at various tasks.
- Poor memory.
And the deficits are cumulative—so the longer you suffer from sleep deprivation, the more severe the symptoms can become.
To determine whether you are sleep deprived, ask yourself:
- Does it take much longer or shorter than 15 minutes for you to fall asleep?
- Do you feel tired when you awaken in the morning?
- Do you snore and does that interrupt your sleep?
- Is there a difference in your sleep patterns during the week vs weekend?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, you may be suffering from a sleep deficit. It is advisable to discuss this with your physician. In the meantime, consider these simple, healthy sleep enhancing strategies:
- Maintain a regular schedule, retiring and awakening at the same time each day.
- Avoid alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine before bed.
- Eat a lighter meal in the evening, and consider adding more of sleep-enhancing foods to your diet:
- Try to wind down as your bedtime nears; avoid strenuous exercise, loud music, movies/tv/screens.
- Take a warm bath scented with a sleep-enhancing aromatic such as lavender or clary sage.
- Exercise regularly during the day, and try to get plenty of natural light.
These strategies, coupled with medical intervention if necessary, can make an enormous difference in improving our sleep patterns, and consequently, our overall health and wellbeing.