Did you know there’s a national holiday that celebrates everyone’s favorite activity: sleeping? We didn’t either until we talked to the people at the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). This global organization works to promote good health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Sleeping is one of the most important things we do to maintain good health. Lately, however, many of us have been struggling to get enough high-quality sleep time due to pandemic anxieties and the other challenges of daily life in 2021.
Sleep Awareness Week begins the same day as daylight savings time — Sunday, March 14 — and runs through to March 20. Launched in 1998, the week gives us a time each year to take stock of our sleeping habits and develop new ones.
Developing new sleep habits takes patience and effort, but there has never been a better time to make a fresh start. Now, as we pull out of our pandemic-related quarantines, it’s a great time to review sleeping habits and make the leap to a new normal.
Use the following links to jump ahead to the section that interests you most.
- What Has COVID-19 Meant For Our Sleep?
- What Does A Good Night’s Sleep Mean: A Guide From A to Zzzzz
- How To Sleep Better After 1 Week
- Easing Into Daylight Savings
- Here’s The Bottom Line
What Has COVID-19 Meant For Our Sleep?
You may feel like you haven’t been sleeping well lately, and statistics say you’re not alone. Researchers have even coined a name for it: “coronasomnia.” That’s the wide-spread increase in sleepless nights and disturbed slumber that has spread over every age group during the past year.
Coronasomnia can have multiple causes: your routine has changed, perhaps, and you’ve been stuck in your home or apartment with little outside stimuli. Your exercise routine has been curtailed. You’re spending twice as much time on your devices, which emit blue light to unbalance you and make it hard to sleep. Or maybe you’ve lost your sense of the boundaries between work and life because — guess what? — They both happen in the same place and overlapping times now.
All that disruption leaves you wide-awake at night, with thoughts and worries swirling around in your head when you should be sawing wood. And that’s not good. It impacts your ability to do your job, mind your children, and live your life. It messes with your mental health and leaves you at risk for depression, memory loss, even heart disease and cancer.
But now, with a vaccine available and commerce reopening slowly but surely, it’s a great time to consider your sleep habits — and improve them if needed. This not only ensures that you stay healthy but will help you negotiate any stress that comes from transitioning to a new normal, post-pandemic.
What Does A Good Night’s Sleep Mean: A Guide From A to Zzzzz
So what does it mean to sleep well? Are you getting a good night’s sleep when you have to get up three or four times to use the bathroom? What about those nights you stay up until 2 a.m. to catch the end of the Late Late Show? Your sleep habits are unique to you, and only you can say for sure when you feel like you’ve slept well. Let’s start by looking at some of the benefits you’re experiencing if you’re getting adequate rest each night.
Sleep deprivation can happen to anyone but is most commonly seen in those under stress — from the president of the U.S. down to the small business owner wondering how she’s going to pay her employees this week or the high schooler who has two tests in one day.
Of course, everyone has a sleepless night occasionally, and there are few consequences other than walking through the next day in a fog. But if you’re experiencing sleep deprivation over a period of time, the are a number of outcomes you may be facing, including:
- Memory issues
- Increased chances of having an accident of any kind
- Weight gain
- Risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Balance problems
Any of these issues can have life-altering consequences. Studies show, for example, that people who sleep fewer than seven hours in 24 hours have higher odds of causing a car crash. If they sleep less than four hours, the odds increase even further, and it’s estimated that 16% of the fatal crashes in the U.S. are caused by driver drowsiness.
The high schooler with the heavy homework load will be less likely to ace those tests if he hasn’t gotten significant sleep. An overtired youth won’t remember as much as he would otherwise and won’t be able to pay attention to the teacher in the classroom. He’ll be distracted and make careless errors on those tests.
For the business owner or government official, sleep deprivation may cause significant issues for them both on the job and off. Their cognition skills, mathematical capacity, and decision-making abilities are impaired at the time when they need them most.
Why We Need To Sleep More
So what happens when you DO get enough sleep? The most obvious result is that you just feel better because your body and mind have had some downtime to recharge. You will probably be in a better mood and be more productive at whatever tasks you need to tackle.
Other benefits? For one, not only does getting enough sleep boosts your immune system, but it makes it easier for your body to metabolize vaccines. If you’re a gym rat (and even more so if you’re not), a good night’s sleep will help improve your gym routine, enhancing muscle recovery, hand-eye coordination, and your ability to tough out the hard physical stuff.
But that’s not all. Take our small business owner. Let’s say that despite her worries, she gets enough sleep. In the morning, she avoids a serious accident by swerving quickly when a biker darts into her path. She gets to work and greets her staff with a smile and heads for the spreadsheets. There she finds an error that she missed yesterday and — voila! There’s the missing payroll.
Sleeping more also helps in the long haul. Lack of sleep causes your body to increase the production of a hormone called ghrelin, whose primary goal is to stimulate your appetite. In the long term, that leads to obesity, which can cause heart problems and more. Sleep enough, and you will know how much to eat and when to stop — thus short-circuiting long-term and potentially serious health concerns.
Immune System Boost
Your immune system would, if it could, thank you for getting enough sleep. When you are asleep, it releases proteins called cytokines. These proteins are essential in helping you fight infection — including COVID-19 — and inflammation.
When your sleep habits are poor, the immune system cannot produce enough of the cytokines. So when you come down with a cold or fever, it knocks you off your feet and leaves you vulnerable to broader infections.
How To Sleep Better After 1 Week
It’s never easy to change habits, but when the stakes are this high, it’s worth making an effort. We’ve made it a little easier for you by breaking down some behaviors that will help you to improve your sleep patterns with as little disruption as possible. Tackle one task a day, and you’ll see results in as little as a week — but if you need to take longer, that’s okay too. Just keep moving in the right direction at a pace that’s comfortable for you.
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Sunday – Make Sure You’ve Got The Right Equipment
You’re not in this alone: you may have a partner you sleep with, and you definitely have equipment that needs to be right for you to get a good night’s sleep. What equipment? Your mattress, of course, as well as your pillow, sheets, and blankets. It’s worth spending a little more to have the equipment that relaxes and supports you. To find the best mattress, we recommend starting with our list of the best mattresses in 2021. Make a list of your sleeping habits — are you a side, back, or stomach sleeper? Do you like to be cool or warm and toasty? How does your partner sleep? — and purchase the sleep equipment that will meet your needs.
Monday – Your Devices Need To Recharge, And So Do You
We live in a society dominated by our devices, from computer monitors to gaming screens, which can cause problems when you sleep. All electronic devices emit blue light, which blocks melatonin, the substance that tells your body when it’s time for bed. If you take your cell phone to bed with you, you’re doing your body a disservice because you’re not allowing it to prepare for your sleep cycle. Do yourself a favor and keep your charging station in a room other than the bedroom — and drop your devices there at least an hour before you hit the hay.
Tuesday – Start Digesting Before You Get In Bed
There’s some evidence that eating late in the day, within an hour or two of bedtime, can cause weight gain. What is known, though, is that eating late in the day means your digestive muscles will be working overtime when they should be settling down to sleep. Let’s face it: it’s hard to fall asleep when all you can hear is your stomach grinding away. A light snack is fine, especially if it’s something sleep-inducing like bananas or almonds, but avoid a heavy meal and stay well away from caffeinated foods and drinks.
Wednesday – Optimize Your Bedroom Environment
Just as it’s essential to have a comfortable pillow and mattress, your whole sleeping area should be designed to help you relax and unwind. Choose soft colors for the bedroom: a soothing grey or pale blue, for example — and have good window coverings in place that eliminate outside noise and light when closed. Keep the temperature in your bedroom on the low side — many people enjoy sleeping with the window cracked, even in the winter. And consider a white noise machine if you find it helps you to fall asleep.
Thursday – Find An Exercise Routine That Works For You
What does exercise have to do with sleep, you ask? Aren’t they opposites? Not really — both are part of keeping yourself healthy. According to scientists at John Hopkins Center for Sleep, exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and improves your sleep quality. The only catch? Be careful about working out too close to bedtime. Exercising, especially of the aerobic type, releases endorphins that keep you awake. Exercise also raises your body temperature, which may lead to wakefulness. Your best bet is to avoid exercising for 90 minutes before bedtime.
Friday – Loosen Up And Let Stress Go
TGIF! You might be looking forward to transitioning from intense work to happy hour, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Think of it this way: if you’re coming off the freeway, it takes time and effort to de-accelerate your car from 65 to a sedate 35. It’s the same with your body and mind. Schedule quiet activities for your evening that are light on technology and allow you to move over to the slow lane for a few hours before bedtime. Reading, spending time with your family, or even a Zoom chat with an old school chum may all help you to shake off the stresses of the week and get ready for a good night’s sleep.
Saturday – Have A Set Time To Sleep And Wake
It’s SO tempting to roll over and play dead when the alarm goes off on Saturday. But that may not be in your best interests. Studies show that irregular sleep patterns may put you at risk of obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. Sleeping an hour or so later on the weekend is not going to harm you, researchers say, but staying more or less consistent with your sleep habits allows your body to listen to its circadian rhythms, which regulate your body’s processes over the course of the day.
Easing Into Daylight Savings
You know the old daylight savings time adage: “spring forward, fall back.” So on March 14, you “lose” an hour of sleep, right? You may indeed want to go to bed a little earlier on the 13th to make up for it. But it doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Suppose that hour of lost sleep is part of a consistent pattern of inadequate sleep. In that case, as we’ve said, you’re putting yourself at risk of all the issues that come up from poor sleeping habits: cardiovascular problems, memory impairment, high blood pressure, weight gain, and weakened immunity, to name a few.
If, however, you’ve adopted our suggestions above, you’re in a good place to weather an hour of lost sleep for one night. Few factors relating to sleep are written in stone: your body adapts beautifully if you go to bed a little late one night or get up earlier than usual the next morning. In other words, there is no “sleep bank” where you need to deposit eight hours of shut-eye every night.
So daylight savings time doesn’t need to throw you a curveball. If your sleep habits, in general, are solid, you won’t suffer if you burn the midnight oil once in a while. The trick is not making it a habit and maintaining your sleep health over the long term with good habits.
To prepare for daylight savings time, you can start going to bed a little earlier — 15 minutes is good — each night for four or five days ahead of time. Don’t take a nap after the clock changes, and stick to your sleep/wake schedule other than that. And remember to avoid caffeine and alcohol the night before, which can cause disrupted sleep.
Here’s The Bottom Line
It may seem odd at first to celebrate something as ordinary as sleep. But when you think about the benefits of a good night’s rest, National Sleep Awareness Week makes perfect sense. What’s the best way to celebrate? Why not take that week and adapt some of our suggestions so that your nighttime is genuinely a time to refresh yourself, body and mind so that you can face the new day with energy and a great attitude. No matter how small, every change you make is a step toward better sleeping habits and better health.