March 6-13 is National Sleep Awareness Week, seven days dedicated to raising awareness for the health benefits of sleep, and its importance to safety and productivity. It’s no secret that a disruptive sleep pattern, or simply too little sleep, affects not only exhaustion levels and mental focus, but also emotional state and mood. The National Sleep Foundation recommends on average between seven and nine hours for optimal health for adults, with the range increasing the younger the person (this helpful infographic paints a pretty clear picture).
According to the American Academy of Sleep, less than six hours of sleep is inadequate, and can lead to serious medical issues. As they put it in their recently issued guidelines for a good night’s sleep: “Sleeping less than seven hours per night on a regular basis is associated with adverse health outcomes, including weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression, and increased risk of death.” Things just got real, right?
There is also a strong correlation between mood and sleep depravation (think cranky tired infant). Sleep helps maintain happiness. When discussing the keys to maintaining a positive reality with psychologist Shawn Achor in a recent article, he stressed the importance of sleep, not just for a sense of happiness but memory as well:
“We know that if you lose an entire hour of sleep each night on average, where you sleep less than five hours a night, it turns out you can remember 70 percent of the negative words you learned the day before, but only remember 20 to 30 percent of the positive ones. Your brain can’t even remember the positive when you are in a sleep-deprived state.”
Sleep is not just vital to a person’s emotional state and physical wellbeing, but an important tool for the brain to retain memory. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke maintains that sleep depravation leads to memory problems, difficulty making decisions, and trouble controlling emotions. Further adding to this, The Scripps Research Institute Florida published a study in July 2015 in the journal Cell, siting that sleep improves memory retention “by stopping ongoing retroactive interference caused by mental activity or external sensory stimuli.” In other words, sleep helps by essentially blocking the “forgetting signal” in the brain, allowing it to keep memories in tact.
Cranky, feeling a bit blue, or lose those keys again? Log more sleep. And remember, March 13 is Daylight Saving Time, so don’t forget to spring forward.
Want to log more ZZZ’s? The National Sleep Foundation offers seven tips to get a better night’s sleep, helping make National Sleep Awareness Week restful and productive.
Day 1: Prepare for sleep week by making time for the proper amount of sleep needed. For an adult, we’re looking at seven to nine hours, so plan accordingly.
Day 2: Space those meals and sleep out. Are you a late-night diner? Kick the habit this week. NSF recommends leaving a couple of hours between eating and lying down for the night.
Day 3: Addicted to the screen? The blue light pouring from those mobile devices actually disrupts your circadian rhythm, as well as suppresses levels of the hormone melatonin, which can affect your ability to sleep. Before heading to bed, power down those mini time-sucks; your brain will thank you.
Day 4: Transform your bedroom into a fortress of “sleepitude,” dedicating it to maximum comfort for sleep. Invest in some bedding that suits your comfort levels, from the mattress down to the sheets.
Day 5: Humans are creatures of habit, and the wind down for sleep should be no different. Create a bedtime ritual to help mentally and physically prepare you for sleep, but don’t over exert. Try light stretches or breathing exercises before hitting the sack.
Day 6: Keep a pre-sleep journal to unpack any troubling thoughts before hitting the hay. Write down your worries; you’ll be amazed how much easier it is to drift off without those thoughts racing through your mind.
Day 7: Maintain the routine, even with Day 7 coinciding with Daylight Saving Time. Account for the lost hour and plan the routine accordingly, even if it feels likes its an hour early.
Bonus Tip: Exercise…but earlier in the day. Physical activity can be a significant boost to your quality of sleep; however, strenuous activity before heading to bed will boost body temperature, which can interfere with drifting off to sleep.