Learn About Sleep Hygiene for National Sleep Awareness Week
National Sleep Awareness Week draws attention to sleep hygiene and the habits that can improve or decrease sleep quality. The event is sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation, and independent non-profit organization dedicated to sleep education, and runs from March 3-10 in 2013. In honor of National Sleep Awareness Week, we take a look at this years focus, exercise and sleep, and provide tips for improving your sleep hygiene.
Sleep Is a Big Deal!
Why does sleep hygiene need a whole week? Sleep has a direct impact on health, making it crucial to find ways to receive high quality rest in adequate amounts. People who suffer from insomnia or who are unable to achieve the ideal 8 hours of rest on a nightly basis seem to be at a much higher risk for significant health risks than those who do. According to a recent Guardian article citing studies from the Surrey Sleep Research Center and an article in the PNAS journal, those who sleep less than 6 hours per night suffer from suppression of over 440 genes, as shown in blood tests. These changes have affects for people’s metabolism, immune system, and stress response, including increased risk for heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Sleep affects our cognition, physical and mental performance, mood, stress levels, healing and so much more. It is vitally important to understand the role sleep plays in your body and how to maximize the benefits.
Exercise & Sleep Hygiene
This year, NSF focused on the effects of exercise and sleep for their annual Sleep in America® poll. The results showed positive correlations between the amount of exercise people reported and their quality of sleep.
In self-report measures, light to vigorous exercisers were 17-28% more likely to report getting a good night’s sleep on weekdays, and 20-27% more likely to report fairly good to very good sleep over the past two weeks. The proportion of people who felt sleepy during the day, and felt it affected their lifestyle was also significantly higher in the group who did not exercise.
Those who reported the most exercise also reported the fewest sleep issues. While 50% of all non-exercisers reported waking up during the night, 72% of people who exercise vigorously had none of the symptoms of insomnia.
Another interesting note was that those who did not exercise have the highest risk for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is associated with serious health complications including stroke and heart disease. People who suffer from apnea will stop breathing during their sleep, snore and may suffer from high blood pressure and sleepiness during the day. Regular exercise has a high impact, with non-exercisers suffering almost twice the level of sleep apnea than those who work out regularly. The overall impact of this and whether it continues long term or acclimates is still being studied, but it does show a real correlation of the impact sleep has on health.
The data amplify the importance of incorporating even moderate exercise in to daily routines for sleep hygiene, in addition to overall health. Time of day one exercised didn’t appear to have an impact on ability to sleep during the night, with the exception of those who were on a specific insomnia treatment plan.
Sleep Hygiene Tips for Quality Rest
What is sleep hygiene? This term refers to habits conducive to rest. Whereas physical hygiene might involve showers, a toothbrush and deodorant, sleep hygiene offers steps you can take to make sleep easier. Below we have compiled a list of sleep hygiene tips and beneficial information, that when implemented will hopefully improve sleep quality.
- Incorporate more movement into your day. People who sit for long periods report more sleep problems than those who are active. Even short breaks, such as walking around for a few minutes, are more beneficial than no movement.
- Begin a regular exercise program. Even short walks can help improve sleep and health.
- Turn lights down for a half an hour before going to bed. Eliminating television and computers from the bedroom can be beneficial for people who have difficulty falling asleep.
- A warm bath before bed will help relax muscles and release tension.
- Don’t stress about not falling asleep in bed. Get up, and read or relax in another room until you are tired.
- A light snack before bedtime may be beneficial if you tend to wake up hungry, although heavy meals before bedtime may cause gastric reflux or decrease sleep quality.
- Replace worn out mattresses and pillows. People who suffer from inadequate sleep often wake up due to discomfort from resting on a mattress that is worn-out or the wrong level of firmness. Memory foam and natural latex mattresses help reduce pressure which leads to tossing and turning, motion transfer from partners, and supports natural alignment.
- Take time to create a peaceful haven in the bedroom that is conducive to rest. Set a low light lamp beside the bed for reading. Use soothing, relaxing colors and soft comfortable materials throughout the room. Use heavy curtains if you wake later and avoid a nightlight if possible. Make this space an area to escape the cares and worries of the day.
- Avoid working, watching TV, and eating in bed. Reserving your bed for sleep helps “train” your mind that bed equals sleep.
- Get daily sunlight exposure to help regulate your internal clock.
It can be difficult to shut work and other concerns off at night. Many people have found it beneficial to keep a notepad handy where they can write down a thought or worry to address the following day. Finding techniques that can help separate one portion of the day from the other is beneficial to sleep quality. Going to the gym and working out on the way home from work is an example of this. Its benefits include working off pent up energy and frustrations, dividing the day, and improved sleep during the night, plus improved health. Take some time during National Sleep Awareness Week to focus on sleep hygiene and improve in areas that could help you sleep better and be healthier.
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