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Turning a Good Night’s Sleep from Dream into Reality

Getting enough sleep is a critical component to our good health. Not getting enough sleep can affect thinking, concentration, energy levels and mood. In addition to shortening life expectancy, lack of sleep on a regular basis puts you at greater risk for serious medical conditions such as depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Your body needs sleep to function at its best, just as it needs air and food. During sleep, your body heals itself and your brain produces new thought connections that aid memory retention. In general, a lack of sleep can dramatically lower your quality of life. Adults need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep each night, yet a third of U.S. adults get less than six hours of sleep. As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a nap or bedtime, it’s likely you’re not getting enough sleep.

Over 20 percent of American adults rely on alcohol to help them fall asleep before bed. And in North America, more than 80 percent of adults regularly consume caffeine, often to get through the day still feeling alert. The irony is that these substances may actually be interfering with getting enough sleep.

Alcohol and Sleep

While alcohol can make you drowsy and help you fall asleep, it actually results in poorer sleep quality throughout the night. People who drink alcohol before bed often experience disruptions later in their sleep cycle as the liver metabolizes alcohol. This can also lead to feelings of daytime sleepiness and other issues the following day. Furthermore, regularly drinking as a sleep aid can build the body’s tolerance to alcohol, leading to consuming more alcohol over time to experience the same sedative effect.

Caffeine and Sleep

Sleep Awareness Week and Daylight Savings Time

The National Sleep Foundation’s annual Sleep Awareness Week is March 14-20, 2021. The event celebrates sleep health and encourages people to prioritize sleep to improve their overall health and wellbeing.

Sleep Awareness Week coincides with Daylight Savings Time (DST), which begins March 14 this year. We “lose” an hour when clocks are set forward (except in Hawaii and most of Arizona). One hour may not seem like a drastic change, but sleep experts have noted this change can disrupt body rhythms and lead to spikes in heart attacks and automobile accidents each year. That’s how critical sleep is to our health and wellbeing.

Caffeine is a stimulant that boosts the central nervous system. Typically, caffeine’s energy boost hits about 15 minutes after consuming it. Caffeine doesn’t last forever, but it does take time for the body to break down. Caffeine has a half life of five to seven hours, so if for example, you have a cup of coffee at 3 p.m., by 8 p.m. only half of that caffeine has been metabolized – the other half is still in your system.

Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee beans, cocoa beans and other plants like tea leaves, kola nuts, guarana and yerba mate. Many people who aren’t coffee or tea drinkers turn to energy drinks for a boost. Marketed to increase alertness and energy levels, many energy drinks contain as much or more sugar than soda and 200 mg of caffeine (about two cups of coffee). For healthy adults, the FDA lists 400 mg of caffeine a day – about four or five cups of coffee – as generally safe. However, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others and how quickly each person metabolizes it also varies.

How to Get More Sleep

The good news is that there are many actions under our control that contribute to how much sleep we get and the quality of that sleep. If you find you’re not getting enough sleep, consider modifying the following:

  • When the TV gets turned off
  • When your phone, video games or other electronics get put away
  • Whether you turn off your phone’s ringer or notifications
  • What time you had your last cup of coffee or energy drink before bed
  • How much alcohol you consumed before bed

If you’re consistently having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, talk with your doctor about identifying and treating the source of your sleep issues. By making some changes, you may find that a good night’s sleep isn’t something you only “dream” about.

[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]

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