With Turkey Day coming up in a couple days, one thing I know I'm looking forward to is help from my parents, so my husband and I can catch up on some much needed sleep....oh the joys of being parents of little guys! This week, I'm pleased to introduce Brittany Skillman, Senior Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator and mother of two sweet little ones and sleepless nights as well. A chronic lack of sleep is not just for parents of young children! According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), "it is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a disorder of sleep and wakefulness, hindering daily functioning and adversely affecting health and longevity."
And now, The A to Zzz's of Sleep from Brittany:
I’m literally yawning as I write this. And no, not because it’s boring, but because I, like many others, am sleep deprived. As a mom of two young kids, one of whom hates to sleep, I feel I am in a constant state of fatigue. Yet here I am writing about sleep. Consequently, I’m also dreaming about and longing for it! While I know my situation is temporary, for many, sleep is an on-going battle. Whether you’re a night-owl by nature, lover of the snooze button or wild dreamer, we all have two things in common when it comes to sleep – we all do it and likely don’t get enough of it.
Besides knowing we need to sleep, we don’t necessarily realize all of the benefits sleep provides. Our mental and physical health are linked to quality sleep (more on the quality part in a bit). Regarding our physical health, ongoing deficient sleep has been linked with an increased risk for heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and stroke. Our immune system also relies on sleep to stay healthy. From a mental and emotional standpoint, our brains don’t work properly if we are sleep deprived. That much should be obvious. Think about how you feel after a night of poor sleep—sluggish, moody, irritable, to name a few of the nicer things. We can struggle to concentrate, cope, problem solve, communicate well, and even learn. Essentially every body system and function is impacted by our shut-eye time. Have I convinced you yet that you need to sleep more?! Great! Now, we need to understand that when it comes to sleep, quality and quantity matter.
On average, Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep each night; however, most of us actually need between 7.5 and 9 hours for optimal functioning and performance. But just because you rocked out 10 hours Saturday night while your kids slept at Grandma’s, doesn’t mean you’re all caught up either. We repay our “sleep debt” over time, not all at once. And throwing in an occasional sleep binge might throw us off even more, as it interferes with our circadian, or body’s, rhythm. One thing we know for sure is that not all sleep is created equal. Sleep happens in stages throughout the night and we cycle through each stage several times. When we are awakened will determine how rested (or not) we feel the next day. Ensuring we get into all stages of sleep (light sleep, deep/restorative and REM/dream sleep) is key. So let’s talk about ways to help you (and me) get better, and more, sleep.
- Make it a priority
Sleep is often one of the first things we forego in our never-ending attempt to do it all. We stay up late to finish working and wake up early to cross more off our to-do lists. Think about what we might accomplish, and how amazing we’d feel, if we had gotten that extra hour of sleep and been refreshed and energized to tackle our day. Give yourself a bedtime. We do it for our kids for this same reason—so they’re not a ‘cranky pants’ the next day. Do yourself that same favor.
- Limit caffeine
I know, I know; it sounds counter-intuitive. But that 4pm triple latte stays with you and can make falling asleep that much harder. Needing caffeine and needing sleep make for a vicious cycle. After a few days without your constant flow of caffeine, you’ll adjust. While you’re at it, drink more water so you’re better hydrated and give yourself some natural energy!
For those without serious sleep issues (such as insomnia and sleep apnea), exercise and sleep go hand-in-hand. You exercise to fatigue your body and mind and then sleep more soundly at night. And for those who exercise a lot or with greater intensity, sleep becomes that much more crucial for your body to recover so that you can kill that next workout. However, for those who struggle with underlying sleep disorders, exercising doesn't always help sleep in the short-term. It often takes making it a habit for a few months in order to reap the sleep benefits. Why? Research is still working on that one... What we do know though, is that habitual exercise is good for our minds, bodies and our ability to sleep better (eventually). So come see us at the RFC for a class, swim or workout session. We’re good at tiring people out!
- Chill out
Our typical go, go, go mentality can make it hard to turn off our brains at night. Taking time to unwind at the end of each day can do wonders for helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. Try reading a book instead of watching TV, meditating for a few minutes instead of playing on your iPad or even doing a few gentle stretches (see Amanda’s Relax with Yoga this holiday season post). Reducing sensory input cues our brains to slow down, which makes it easier to relax.
I hope you’re able to implement these tricks and will “sleep like a baby” tonight. (Side note: I much prefer the phrase “sleep like a husband” because mine is the soundest of them all. My baby, not so much!) So until next time, good night.
Personal Training Coordinator, Brittany Skillman has worked in the RFC at SAS for 8 years. She holds degrees in both Exercise and Sport Science and Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds multiple professional certifications. A Raleigh native, Brittany spends her free time with her family, including husband and fellow SAS employee, Shawn, daughter Tatum and son Penn.