When you were little, your mom would often tell you to go to bed, and (most of the time) you would obey and sleep for probably 8 or 9 hours. Then you grow up a bit and become a teenager, and while you may feel tired and cranky, you refuse to go to bed early at night on sheer principle of not being cool. Until finally, as adults, our sleep patterns are so corrupted to a “work-a-day” society where time is more valuable than the gold our ancestors so treasured. True, the average adult does not require the same amount of sleep as children, but, according to immunesupport.com, one-third of all adults living in the United States get less than 6 1/2 hours per night. A fair amount shy of the recommended 8 hours.
Dr. Ellen Miller, of the website healthysleeping.com, when asked about the ill effects of sleep loss states that, “Besides just not feeling well, we're not as sharp, we're not as quick to respond, we can have more traffic accidents, we're not as sharp in the workplace. It can lead to mood disorders; many people who don't get enough sleep, they develop depression. If we don't get the right amount of sleep for our bodies, it can have a lot of effects on our health.”
Dr. Eve Van Cauter follows up on Dr. Miller's remarks by saying, “Sleep loss has an adverse effect on our ability to metabolize sugar. In one week of severe sleep deprivation, such as four hours per night, a healthy, lean, fit volunteer will be in a pre-diabetic state. With sleep loss, we have also noticed an increase in hunger and appetite and profound alterations in hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Such that, when you're sleep-deprived, you may overeat well in excess of the caloric demands, and, therefore, sleep loss is probably also a risk factor for weight gain and obesity.”
To summarize the doctors' remarks, people that don't get enough sleep are at risk for depression and mood disorders, diabetes, and obesity, in addition to being sluggish and considered a risk on the job. Call me crazy, but that doesn't sound very appealing. In fact, most of us work hard to squeeze in our recommended 20 minutes of aerobic activity, and too many of us are doing Atkins to try to watch our weight (but that's another article).
Now, what about those of us that try to sleep more, but simply can't? Restlessness is a common problem among busy adults, and the bad news is that continuing an irregular and poor sleep pattern (i.e. insomnia) only makes the problem worse. Cortisol is a stress hormone that naturally lowers every evening in preparation for the body to sleep. However, insomnia actually increases the amount of cortisol in our systems each evening, serving to continue the cycle.
If you've ever had insomnia, you know that breaking out of it is extremely difficult. Dr. Van Cauter advices that attempting sleep in a cool and dark room, not served for daytime or work activities (even television) can help. Also, try to avoid heavy foods during the evening, and regularly exercise.
Trying to regulate your anxiety and stress levels will promote sleep. For me, that means an extra hot bath with some chammomile oil, and a couple of candles. For my husband it usually involves reading or drawing. For you, it's probably different, but try to find a ritual or pattern that works. Routine is very important to the human body, and after a few days of an established pattern and schedule, you will trick your mind into agreeing it is time to sleep.
If you're short on ideas of how to relax and prepare for sleep,
there are plenty of old traditions that address the matter.
Honestly, some don't work, but there are some I've tried, and I can
tell you that they worked for me. Wearing warm socks on your feet
and mittens on your hands (even a stocking cap) warms the body,
which more often than not will cause muscles and mind to relax.
Drinking warm milk has a similar effect, and if you're lactose
intolerant drinking a warm cup of caffeine-free tea works
wonderfully. Try a chammomile blend, as chammomile is known for
aiding in insomnia, tension, and stress, and can also promote
healing if you're ill.
I hope you've learned a bit about the necessity of allowing your body to rest. For more information, I recommend www.healthysleeping.com.