Sleep, the Wonder Drug

If there were a drug that made you smarter, improved your memory, sharpened your focus, increased your athletic performance, decreased stress, anxiety and depression, enhanced your physical attractiveness, all while decreasing your future chances of heart attack, stroke and diabetes would you take it? What if that drug was also inexpensive and free of side effects? Would you take it then? Let me prescribe it for you.

That drug is sleep. People ages 13 to 25 need about 9 to 9.5 hours sleep per night. Unfortunately, when life gets hectic, sleep is one of the first things people give up. So often, my patients tell me they skimp on sleep just to finish homework, catch up with social media or maintain their active lifestyle. We treat sleep as a luxury rather than a necessity.
I find that my patients shortchange themselves on sleep for two reasons: Sleep is not a priority in their busy lives, and/or they have trouble falling or staying asleep.

For those of you who don’t prioritize sleep, here are the reasons you will want to make sleep a priority:

  • It is much more difficult to concentrate on tasks with less sleep. In fact, many people are mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD when they are merely sleep deprived.
  • Driving while sleep deprived is as dangerous as driving after drinking alcohol. Students who have less than 8 hour of sleep at night are more frequently involved in car accidents. They are also more likely to get injured playing sports.
  • It takes you longer to finish a task (like homework or a test) if you haven’t had enough sleep. Staying up late to do homework or study will decrease your ability to perform on a test the next day, and the later you stay up, the longer it will take you to do your homework. People who routinely stay up late do more poorly in school than when they are well rested.
  • Not only are sleepy athletes injured more often  but they run slower and have less coordination during practice and games. Muscles need adequate sleep time to recover and get stronger.
  • Without adequate sleep, your long term memory is impaired. If you have trouble remembering what you’ve studied, try getting more sleep.
  • Sleep deprivation worsens anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, those who are anxious or depressed often have trouble sleeping.
  • Sleep deficiency raises blood pressure and blood sugar- precursors of heart attacks, stroke and diabetes.
  • You are more attractive after a good nights sleep. Adequate sleep improves the health and appearance of your hair, skin and eyes.
  • Studies show that people who habitually get less than 7 hours of sleep a night are more likely to die younger than those who get enough sleep.

For those who have trouble sleeping, Here are some tips that help:

  • A good night’s sleep starts in the morning: Make sure you’re exposed to bright light in the early morning, preferably before 9am. This will help reset your sleep rhythm so you fall asleep easily in the evening. Sunlight is best, but bright indoor light can help.
  • Make sure you’re not exposed to bright light, especially your phone, computer, and TV within 2 hours of bedtime. If you must use these devices, put them on blue light filter mode or wear blue light blocking glasses.
  • Start dimming the lights in your home after supper.
  • Don’t eat a large meal within 2 hours of bedtime. Avoid heavy meals.
  • Avoid caffeine after 2 pm.
  • Don’t drink anything within an hour of bedtime so you don’t have to wake to pee.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. It interferes with quality of sleep and makes you wake more often through the night.
  • Try to wake and sleep within an hour of the same time each day including weekends.
  • Avoid napping between 3 pm and bedtime.  Limit naps to less than 30 minutes. A short early nap won’t interfere with your sleep as much as a late or long one.
  • Take a hot shower or bath about an hour before bedtime.
  • Make sure your bedroom is not hot. Temperatures in the 65 to 72 degree range are comfortable for most people.
  • Use a good quality pillow and medium-firm mattress.
  • Exercise daily, but not right before bed.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. Use light and sound blocking curtains. Turn off electronics in your room. Avoid using any artificial light, even a night light or LED clock if possible. Your eyes will adjust to the dark very quickly without them.
  • Sleep by yourself if possible or at least in a bed large enough that bed partners don’t compete for space. Pets and bed partners can keep you awake if you have different sleep rhythms. Enjoy quality time with those you love while you’re awake and a snuggle at bedtime, but don’t let a snoring bed partner or your cat’s long noisy licking session keep you up. In a recent study, some people feel less anxious and fall asleep easier when sleeping with their dog. However, if you feel you need to sleep with a pet or partner because of fear, it is important to get help dealing with those fears. These tips may help.
  • Write in a journal before bed. Leave unpleasant thoughts or your to do list on the paper rather than in your head.
  • Do some gentle stretching, yoga or meditation for a few minutes before going to bed.
  • Use a foam roller for a gentle massage just before bed.
  • Consider a Magnesium supplement. (consult your doctor before starting any supplements). Taking 250 mg Magnesium a day can help with sleep.

If you still have trouble sleeping, consult your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder like circadian rhythm disorder, sleep apnea, sleep movement disorder, depression or anxiety, or if you’re struggles with sleep have been life-long. If possible, bring a sleep diary to the appointment.

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