guest post by Winthrop University Nutrition Graduate student, Lawson Harris
Are you getting enough sleep on a consistent basis? Do you prioritize sleep?
If you don’t, I get it. It’s hard to get that uninterrupted 7 to 9 hours of sleep every single night, especially in today’s world where most people thrive on busy, on-the-go lifestyles where sleep gets put on the back burner. In our society, it’s as if its something to be proud of or to brag about, but it’s definitely not. You can be doing everything right-eating healthy, exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water-but if you aren’t getting adequate sleep, your overall physical and mental health is what takes a hit which could delay all of your hard work and progress towards a healthy lifestyle. So why is it so important? Sleep has an essential role in overall health because it….
Allows for proper brain function. While you are sleeping, your brain is processing and consolidating your memories from the day and preparing for the next day by forming new pathways to help you learn more information. It improves your overall cognition and allows you to stay focused and alert throughout the day.
Improves immune system function. Adequate sleep gives your body the rest it needs and strengthens your immune system so that it can fight off whatever comes its way.
Keeps your heart healthy. During sleep, your blood pressure naturally goes down. If your sleep is consistently inadequate (less than 7 hours), your blood pressure remains higher than normal for a longer period time and strains your cardiovascular system which increases your risk of developing problems later on.
Helps in maintaining a healthy weight. Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your ghrelin levels increase making you feel hungrier than you would if you were well-rested. This also leads to increased cravings for unhealthy, carbohydrate rich foods because it is your body’s way of telling you it needs energy. This pattern over time can lead to unintended weight gain.
Improves your mood. Have you ever woken up on “the wrong side of the bed?” That saying is true. Poor sleep can cause irritability, stress, symptoms of depression, and anxiety which affects your attitude towards others and how you perform daily tasks.
Are you finding that you need to re-assess your sleep habits? I challenge you to incorporate one of these ways into your routine to achieve better sleep TODAY. What’s the worst that could happen?
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends, limiting the difference to no more than about an hour.
- Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid watching TV, looking at your cellphone, or computer.
- Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (Having a light snack is okay, people!) Also, avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
- Avoid consuming caffeine late in the day and using nicotine.
- Spend time outside every day when possible and engage in physical activity (whatever suits your interest!).
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.
- Manage your worries or concerns before bedtime. Jot down what’s on your mind and set it aside for tomorrow.