Sleep Your Way to Better Health
People think sleep is a waste of time,” says James P. Krainson, M.D., director of the South Florida Sleep Diagnostic Center in Miami. “But they don’t realize that sleep will make them more productive.” It will also help you improve your memory, shed postpregnancy pounds, and stave off obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Dozens of studies support the notion that sleep is just as important for maintaining good health as diet and exercise. For example, a study published in the journal Sleep found a relationship between short sleep and increased diabetes risk. Other studies found a lack of sleep can exacerbate pain, cause mood disturbances, and even increase the risk of gum disease.
Your wake-up call. If results from a 2007 Sleep in America poll are anything to go by, too many women are risking their health from lack of sleep. Conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NFS), last year’s poll revealed that 60 percent of American women get a good night’s sleep only a few nights per week or less. Apparently, when women are pressed for time—which, let’s face it, is every day—sleep is usually the first thing to go.
Take back the night. With health benefits that important, you can’t ignore those eight hours of shuteye any longer. To help you get back in bed and waking up well rested, we looked at four sleep ailments—and discovered some surprisingly effortless solutions.
THE PROBLEM: No time
Recent research at the University of Pennsylvania, published in 2007 in Sleep, says our work-driven culture keeps us from getting the rest we need. Among the findings: The more time we spend working and com- muting, the less time we spend in bed. Even when we know that get- ting more sleep will make us feel better, it usually isn’t enough to keep us from burning the candle at both ends, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., sleep expert and author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep (Plume, 2007). What’s required, Breus says, is a plan for making sleep a priority:
Set your clock for sleep. Set your alarm to go off an hour before you want to go to sleep. The alarm is your cue to start getting ready for bed.
Wind down for an hour. Take 20 minutes to shut down the house for the night and prepare for the next morning. Spend the next 20 minutes doing your usual evening ablutions like washing your face, brushing your teeth, and changing into your pj’s. For the final 20 minutes, relax and meditate in bed. That’s it. No work, reading, e-mails, phone calls, paying bills, or getting into a discussion with your partner about your health, finances, or relationship during your power-down hour, says Breus. “Avoid any activity that gets your mind revved up before you go to bed,” he advises.
Create a sleep sanctuary. “I’ve gone into bedrooms of people who say they can’t sleep, and they’ve got a computer in there, a TV, a huge pile of laundry on the floor,” says Breus. The question then becomes, according to Breus, not “Why can’t I sleep?” but “How could I sleep under these circumstances?” To transform your bedroom, Breus recommends moving the computer and the TV out of the room and clearing out the clutter. “You want to create an area that’s flowing and positive,” he writes in his book Beauty Sleep.