The third component to optimal health is good sleep hygiene. Many of you may think of and argue there are more "components" or "keys" to health - and I don't disagree. But at the most fundamental level, eating, sleeping and moving are "the big three".
Consider these three tenets to each represent a leg on a three-legged stool. If you take a leg away, the stool (and your health) will - perhaps less dramatically, collapse.
Sleep may seem like a basic practice however many of us do not have good quality sleep and/or do not sleep enough. Unfortunately the mentality in today's society that "sleep is the cousin of death" rings in the minds of those who hardly give themselves time to slow down from their hectic schedules. When the quality of our sleep is disrupted through various mechanisms, it can wreck havoc on our bodies in numerous ways. This has been illustrated in numerous studies that have been conducted on how sleep influences our mental and physical health.
Recent research has shown that approximately 2/3rds of the general population do not get enough sleep on week-nights to meet their bodily needs. Teens are getting 1.75 hours less and adults about .5 hours less sleep than the recommended amounts.
For teens, a lack of sleep over 7 days is associated with an increase in academic problems including: decreased quality of work, decreased amount of work completed, slower rate of learning and poor recall.
Decreased sleep time is also associated with a decline in grades, daytime sleepiness, increased auto accidents, increased moodiness, and increased impulsivity in people of all ages. Many studies have likened a lack of sleep to alcohol consumption with respect to response times, error counts, etc. depending on what each individual study is measuring.
The results of these studies are shocking and many organizations (i.e. professional sport teams) are taking notice. In fact, I'd encourage you all to check out this article interviewing Seattle Seahawks Head Coach, Pete Carroll in which he describes sleep as a "weapon":
A few things to consider that'll influence your sleep quality for the better are:
- Sleep continuity
- Sleep history
- Room temperature
Improving sleep continuity means addressing anything that fragments your sleep. This includes: noise, pain, stress, anticipated stress, excess fluid consumption, a snoring or restless sleeping partner.
Sleep history speaks to the quality of your sleep over the past several days or weeks. Sleep deprivation has a cumulative effect. One night of fragmented sleep will not have the same cognitive effects as several nights of fragmented sleep.
Consistency refers to having regular wake-up times and to a lesser extent regular bed times. Sleeping in or getting up unusually early affects our circadian rhythm and sleep drive. Have you ever suffered from "Sunday night insomnia"(i.e. inability to fall asleep)? This typically occurs as a result of sleeping in from the night before and can result in a day or two of daytime sleepiness and impaired performance as your body attempts to adjust to the sudden change in your sleep habits.
Room temperature also plays a role in sleep quality. A stage of sleep call REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is generally more sensitive to changes in room temperature. REM sleep is more affected by increases in temperature rather than decreases. Studies have shown an increase in protein synthesis during REM sleep and it has been proposed that synaptic connections are forming to consolidate memories during this stage. Disrupting this stage of sleep may therefore affect memory recall.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to consider for your sleep hygiene. I hope this post has shed some light on an often underestimated area of overall health. My next post will touch on some of the more detrimental health effects of sleep deprivation that falls more in line with my three-legged health stool analogy.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to share them in the comments section below!