Member Articles

Write an article!

Are you Getting Enough Sleep?

How your sleep patterns affect your health

by Meri Raffetto RD, LDN  |  2880 views  |  2 comments  |        Rate this now! 

As women we try to fill more than what is reasonable into a day. We get up early, get ready for the day, get the kids off to school, go to work, pick up the dry cleaning, stop by the grocery store, make dinner, help with homework, pick up the kitchen, and if we're lucky catch an episode of Grey's Anatomy, and then catch up on our to-do list. There are only so many hours in the day and often the things we "give up" such as rejuvenation time, exercise, or even sleep are the most important things for us to live a healthy and reasonably sane life.
Experts recommend that we get 8 hours of sleep every night. The National Sleep Foundation found that US adults got an average of 6.9 hours of sleep. Few of us get this much sleep. However, lack of sleep can affect your health in serious ways:

  • Getting just 1-2 hours less sleep than needed can impair brain function.
  • Lack of sleep is associated with health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • Researchers found that people who don't get sufficient sleep at night produce more of the hunger hormone called grehlin (appetite stimulant) and less of the full hormone called leptin (appetite suppressant) contributing to weight problems.
  • People who have a lack of sleep are less efficient and accomplish less during the day.
  • Spending a couple hours less in bed at night significantly impacts mood. People experience more depression and anxiety.
  • Sleep loss impairs your memory, judgment, and mental acuity.
  • Lack of sleep can negatively affect your immune system leaving you more susceptible to colds and flu bugs.

When we learn how important sleep, diet, quiet time, and exercise are to our health, we begin to see a clear picture of how badly we beat up our bodies and this has become the norm in our society. It has just become a learned way of living that seems very normal in our eyes. Who else is going to do all the stuff we need to accomplish in a day? There is too much demand for our time. We have actually come to a place where we squeezed out time for our basic human needs.

We can, however, take some small steps to get back on the right track. If you consistently get less than 8 hours of sleep at night, here are some tips to help you get a restful night's sleep:
  • Be flexible and willing to give yourself this time. There is no more time in the day so we often have to "give up" something in order to add something else – in this case a few more hours of sleep. We may need to let go of tasks that are less urgent or get help through family, friends, spouses, or babysitters.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day including the weekends. Our circadian clock likes schedules and this helps to get to sleep and stay asleep each night.
  • Create a regular nighttime relaxation ritual such as taking a hot shower, reading, or listening to music. This helps you to unwind, and decrease those rambling thoughts in your head so you can fall asleep easier.
  • Make sure your environment is conducive to a sound sleep. This includes a dark room, cool, comfortable bed, and minimal noise.
  • Avoid exercising and eating 2-3 hours prior to bedtime. Both of these can interrupt sleep patterns.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine at night as much as possible. Caffeine is a stimulant that will keep you awake and interfere with your feeling sleepy and tired. Alcohol, even though it is a sedative, actually interferes with a restful night sleep by causing you to wake up frequently.
Do you have a health-related question you'd like Meri to address in her future columns? Click here to send her a message through her Work It, Mom! profile.

About the Author

Meri Raffetto is a Registered Dietitian, and a columnist for Work It, Mom! and the founder of Real Living Nutrition Services, an online weight loss program that empowers people to make small changes s

Read more by Meri Raffetto RD, LDN

2 comments so far...

  • I agree with everything here, and generally I do allow myself enough sleep. I'm also very strict about it with my kids - well, I was until they hit their mid-teens. Then, I have to trust the lessons I've taught them will hold them through, even though they may have to get into their twenties before they learn Mom Was Right. Heh.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by MaryP on 21st September 2007

  • I don't get enough sleep, I know it. I just don't prioritize it enough. But reading what you wrote above is motivating me to find a way to squeeze in another hour. Starting tonight:)

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Nataly on 19th September 2007