March 10 to March 16 is designated Sleep Awareness Week by the National Sleep Foundation.
The theme of this year’s Sleep Awareness Week is “Begin with Sleep,” which focuses on educating people on how important good sleep health is to achieve personal and professional goals.
Unfortunately, many today seem to measure their productivity by how little sleep they get. The claim “I only got five hours of sleep last night” has almost become a measure of an individual’s dedication to their profession. However, the cost in health, absenteeism, and safety is creating a national crisis.
The lack of adequate, restful sleep can impact a person’s ability to form memories, to think and react quickly, to solve relationship problems and to maintain mental health. It can also impact blood pressure, blood sugar levels and overall health. And driving while sleep deprived can be as dangerous as driving under the influence!
So how can you improve your sleep habits?
The first thing most sleep specialists recommend is following the same sleep schedule, even on weekends. This allows the body to find its rhythm. Pre-bedtime rituals can also be helpful, like darkening the environment for an hour or two before going to bed, or reading, or bathing before bedtime. A period of exercise during the day, although not too close to bedtime, can also be helpful.
Creating the right sleep environment is also important. A comfortable bed and pillow in a soothing environment, with no light or noise, is helpful for most people. Avoiding a heavy meal in the evening, and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol late in the day can also be beneficial.
And there is probably nothing worse than lying in bed and not being able to fall asleep. Should that happen, get up for a short period of time and do something relaxing until you are tired enough to fall asleep.
The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be overestimated. If the lack of adequate, restful sleep is disturbing you, speak with your physician or a sleep specialist. Your physical and emotional health may very well depend on it.
Fulvia Milite, MD, is a board certified sleep medicine specialist and Director of the Sleep Center at White Plains Hospital.