Are you getting enough sleep? Summers are a real challenge in Alaska because the long daylight hours keep many of us from those deep, restful sleep hours that are so necessary for good health.
Until the 1950s, people thought that sleep was passive. Now we know that our brains work during sleep and that the body rejuvenates itself while at rest. The amount of sleep we get is important to our physical and mental health.
We need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, though some of us can get by on six hours and some require as much as 10 hours. How much sleep you need as an individual depends on your age and your activity level.
Not getting enough sleep can complicate brain functioning and may result in memory problems or even depression. You have greater susceptibility to pain and the immune system weakens, allowing for greater opportunities for sickness.
In short, sleep deprivation can be dangerous. We know that people who are sleepy don’t perform well in physical tests. A recent study using a driving simulator showed that those who were sleep-deprived made as many or more mistakes than those who were intoxicated. Drinking when you are sleepy can result in a greater degree of impairment than drinking when you are well rested.
Recent research has also borne out this idea. Poor sleepers are likely forgetful and unhappy. Twenty five percent of those who sleep less than five hours each night are so impaired that they suffer from memory challenges bad enough to affect their quality of life. When they studied those who had slept less than five hours a night, they found that all types of memory were affected. When asked if they performed a certain task, 50 percent of all adults struggled with remembering if they had.
However, getting good sleep isn’t always easy, but there are some things you can do to increase your chances of getting a full night’s sleep.
Stick to a schedule. Don’t sleep in just because you can. Get up and go to sleep at the same time you always do. Your body knows what to expect and will stay on the same rhythm each day.
Create a bedtime ritual. Relax before you hit the hay. Think of this time as a bridge between being awake and in the land of nod. Do the same thing each night. Take a shower or bath, read a book or listen to soft music. All these things will help get you ready for rest. Avoid television or computer use during this time. The blue light from both these electronic screens will keep you awake.
Be comfortable. The watchwords here are cool, dark and quiet. Again, no television should be on in your bedroom. A good mattress and pillow are key for your comfort. Since good depends on what you like, choose what is comfortable to you.
Include some type of physical activity in every day. If you are tired from exercising, you will fall asleep faster and will sleep deeper. However, don’t exercise too late in the day. If you are too energized by your workout, you won’t sleep well.
Control stress. That is sometimes easier said than done. We all have too much to do and too little time. Basic tasks like getting organized, delegating tasks and setting priorities will help you get more done during the day and keep your stress at bay. If you are a worrier, take a piece of paper and jot down all your worries, then set them aside until tomorrow.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org by calling 907-474-7201.