I’m nearly 70, and I figure I’ve spent over 203,000 hours of my life snoozing. That’s 8,500 24-hour days, 1200 weeks, 300 months, or 25 solid years of sleep. Call me Rip Van Winkle. I’ve loved every minute of it.
But has it been enough?
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?
When I was teaching I seldom got the “required” eight hours, and I paid the price. When I didn’t sleep well the wrong words would pop out of my mouth, I’d mess up writing on the blackboard, and I’d be short-tempered.
When I retired I decided to toss my alarm and rely on my biological clock. Within a week I fell into a routine of sleeping eight hours, from 11 pm to 7 am. It was heaven to wake up on my own, refreshed and eager for the day.
The National Sleep Foundation has recently revised its recommendations for healthy sleep, and for people over 65 they recommend 7-8 hours, with a range of 5-9 hours considered appropriate, depending on individual health and needs.
I’m fortunate to be a good sleeper; the nights I toss and turn are rare, but I have a few close friends who struggle to get even five hours of sleep, and I worry about them. I know good sleep promotes health and long life.
Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. The Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine has done extensive research and discovered these consequences:
“In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.”
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The Harvard Medical School offers the following tips for better sleep:
- Go to bed and wake at the same time every day. A consistent pattern of sleeping and waking will become habit, and your body will acclimate to the schedule, allowing you to fall asleep and wake more easily.
- Use the bed only for sleep and sex. If you’re still sexually active, what better way to tire yourself out? The experts don’t even recommend reading in bed, but books are my sleeping potion; I seldom manage more than a few pages before dozing off. I guess a page-turner might not be a good idea, though.
- Limit your caffeine. We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, and for some of us any amount of caffeine can keep us awake at night. My father was able to enjoy a strong cup of coffee before bed, while I have to cut myself off after three in the afternoon. Find your personal tolerance for caffeine and act accordingly.
- Be physically active. Aerobic exercise helps us sleep. If I don’t exercise at all during the day, I usually have trouble sleeping. Whether you do an exercise class, a daily walk, or 10-minute spurts of exercise around the house, exercise will help you sleep.
- Limit naps to 30 minutes. Though you can use short naps to catch up on sleep, it’s best to do your sleeping at night. Long naps mess up your sleep schedule, and who likes to wake up groggy?
- If you use tobacco in any form, quit. There’s nothing healthy about smoking, and if cancer isn’t enough of a deterrent, the nicotine is a stimulant that makes it harder to fall asleep. Give it up.
- Use alcohol cautiously. Alcohol depresses the nervous system, so a nightcap may help some people fall asleep. However, this effect disappears after a few hours and may even lead to waking up throughout the night. I’ve found that a second glass of red wine with dinner guarantees me a 3AM wake-up.
- Improve your sleep surroundings. You should have a quiet, dark place to sleep. You should also avoid any blue-screen activities for 30-60 minutes before going to bed. Recent research has shown that the blue light of televisions, computers, tablets and phones suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.
- If you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something to relax. You might read, take a warm bath, or drink a cup of warm milk—anything that settles you down. Once you feel tired, head back to bed.
- Avoid taking sleeping pills. If you are having ongoing sleep issues, consult with your physician before relying on sleeping pills.
AVOID THE SPECTER OF BLUE LIGHT
I was surprised to learn that blue light, even ambient blue light, is the most intense of all forms of light, the reasons you see blue lights on ambulances. Our bodies produce more melatonin as the day grows dark, and all lights impede its production, though the intense rays of blue light affect it the most. If you struggle with sleep, get rid of all the electronics in your bedroom.
I look forward to sleeping well in the coming years. Let’s see…eight hours a night for 25 years will be 73,000 hours, which is 3,042 days…
You can also check out my writing website: annmershon.com