Here’s to a good night’s sleep

Sleeping, whether a full night’s sleep or an afternoon nap, seems like an indulgent pastime for many. But did you know that a lack of sleep can have a negative effect on health?

An older woman sleeping in bed.
Photo: Shutterstock.

We all know that we feel better after a good night’s sleep. We have more energy, are more alert, think and perform cognitive activities better and we just feel happier in general. In contrast, after a poor night’s sleep, we often feel fatigued, less alert and cranky and experience problems with our memory. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning and other vital functions.”

Sleep research is producing useful sleep information. Here are some major reasons why sleep is essential to your health:

  • Body systems have a chance to rejuvenate during sleep. This includes muscle repair and growth and hormone production.
  • Sleep is critical for infant and child brain development. The amount of recommended sleep can range from eight to 16 hours, depending on the age.
  • The amount of time spent sleeping affects our ability to learn and perform mental tasks. Getting adequate sleep increases our ability to maximize brain activity, while lack of sleep causes us to be forgetful and perform poorly on tests and other cognitive tasks. So much for pulling that all-nighter!
  • Sleep deprivation may increase your risk of serious injury or accidents, including car accidents.

Inadequate sleep over time increases your risk for developing many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity. With the development of chronic illness often comes a shortened life expectancy. Lack of sleep may also lead to increased cortisol production. Cortisol causes increased inflammation in the body and the increased risk of developing a chronic disease.

How much sleep do we need a night?  Most researchers recommend seven to eight hours of sleep per night for adults. National Institute on Health recommends these tips to help you sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Develop soothing bedtime habits such as enjoying a warm bath or reading.
  • Avoid drinking alcoholic and caffeinated drinks late in the day.
  • Engage in 20-30 minutes of physical activity every day.

Pay attention to your sleep patterns. If you’re not sleeping long enough or are experiencing sleep-related disorders, consult with your doctor. Consider using a sleep journal to track wake and sleep times, caffeine consumption and any other sleep habits. For more information on sleep, enroll in Michigan State University Extension’s SLEEP (Sleep Education for Everyone Program). SLEEP is a six-week program that offers guidelines to help improve sleep hygiene practices, which are behaviors that improve sleep quality. For more information about the SLEEP series, please contact Dr. Robin Tucker, lead developer and researcher of this curriculum.        

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