How would you rate your sleeping habits? Hopefully, favorably, considering we spend about a third of our life sleeping and about half the population deals with sleep issues. According to research, the average adult sleeps fewer than seven hours per night. Chronic sleep deprivation can negatively affect our immune system, making us more vulnerable to many health issues, and it certainly has a negative effect on our daily moods, performance capabilities and energy levels. Amazingly, it even has an impact on weight.
Michael Bruis, Ph.D., author of Beauty Sleep and the clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale, Ariz., said two hormones — ghrelin and leptin — are key in this process. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you when to eat. When you are sleep deprived, you have more ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin. You are eating more, plus your metabolism is slower when you are sleep deprived, Bruis says.
Three common sleep myths
Myth 1: You need eight hours of sleep.
Fact: Eight is not necessarily the magic number; it is just an average. Seven to nine hours of sleep is generally recommended for both older and younger adults to function at their best.
Myth 2: Sleeping longer will help fatigue.
Fact: Oversleeping alters your sleep pattern, which can make for a difficult time to fall asleep the following night. If you are getting seven to nine hours of sleep and still feel fatigued, you could have issues that need medical attention.
Myth 3: You don't need naps.
Fact: A short nap, no longer than 10 to 30 minutes in early or mid afternoon, can give you a boost of energy. However, naps late in the day can mess up your sleep cycle, making it more difficult to get to sleep at night.
Conditioning yourself to fall asleep
While there are many sleep issues that may need the attention of a physician, the most common causes for insomnia in older adults are poor daytime habits and a poor sleep environment. Here are some tips:
Let the sunshine in: Spend some time outside, particularly in the morning. Sunlight stimulates your body to produce melatonin, which is a natural hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
The sleep/exercise connection: Physical activity gives sound sleeping a big boost! However, timing is important, as exercising too close to bedtime could give you too much energy to sleep soundly. Do 20 to 30 minutes of cardio earlier in the day for the most sleep-enhancing benefit.
Eating habits: Avoid rich, heavy meals later in the evening. Fatty foods are harder to digest, making a lot of work for the stomach and, perhaps, an uncomfortable night's sleep.
Sleep routine: A cool, dark and quiet room is best for sleeping. Develop a nightly routine that relaxes you, such as reading, listening to music or soaking in a hot bath. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. The regularity will help to set your sleep-wake clock, improving the quality of your sleep.
Don't be a clock watcher: Cover the clock by your bed or turn it around so you can't see what time it is when you wake up in the night. Clock watching can create stress and make it difficult to go back to sleep.
Manage stress: Deep breathing, meditation, progressive relaxation and performing easy stretches are stress management tools that can help with the transition between being awake and ready for sleep.