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The Role Sleep Plays

We’ve all seen them — the advertisements on TV, in magazines, and
even on posters at bus-stops and pharmacies — advertisements talking
about depression symptoms and the medications you can take to alleviate
them. While I do not disagree with the fact that chemical imbalances do
exist and medication can help, I can’t help but wonder what role sleep —
or lack thereof — is playing in this sudden increase in depression in
Americans the past few years.

According to the National Sleep Foundation,
the average amount of sleep needed by most adults in order to function
optimally for most adults is between 7-9 hours. This average can vary
based on a person’s individual makeup, as well as their current sleep
debt.

Sleep debt, in essence, is how much sleep a person is not getting,
compared to how much they need. In a report done by Katie Couric, the
following statistic was presented:

sleep

The National Sleep Foundation is quick to point out
that nowadays we’re getting less and less [sleep]. In 2001, 38% of
adults said they slept eight hours or more a night. Last year, only 26%
of us were sleeping eight or more hours.
British Airways actually provides an interesting formula
for figuring out what your sleep debt is. Although it’s kind of fun to
figure out, results, should they be in the red, should also sober us up a
bit.

I know firsthand how easy it is to complain that there aren’t enough
hours in my day to get everything done, and half-jokingly,
half-seriously talk about how I’d give anything for a nap or a good
night’s sleep. Somehow my to-do list each day becomes more important
than getting sleep. The truth of the matter is, however, it’s that
lack of sleep that may be resulting in my inability to get my list
accomplished each day. Not only that, but personally, the more my sleep
debt builds up, the more my struggles with depression once again creep
over me.

Going back to the National Sleep Foundation, they offer the following cautions concerning not getting enough sleep:

  • There is a correlation between motor vehicle accidents and drivers who have not had enough sleep.
  • Those who are sleep deprived run a greater risk of being overweight. Sleepiness causes an increase in appetite.
  • There is an increase in diabetes and heart problems.
  • There is a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and
    psychiatric problems, including depression and substance abuse. (Side
    note: I would be interested in seeing sleep statistics for the average
    American over the last 15 years and depression statistics over the past
    15 years. Something to ponder, to be sure!)
  • Decreased ability to pay attention, focus, and concentrate on tasks.

In other words, if life seems less than optimal, one of the first aspects of our lives we need to examine is our sleep account.

An easy way to do this is to keep a sleep log for a week. Record how
much sleep you are getting each 24 hour period and track it for a week.
After tracking this for one week, it’s time to see how much sleep you
need. Notice I didn’t say how much sleep you think you can live on, but how much sleep you need in order to live life optimally.

In order to do this, purpose to go to bed at the same time every
night for a week. If possible, begin this on a night before a day when
you do not have to set your alarm. Sleep until you wake up. If
possible, sleep like this for the next week, waking up naturally and
without the help of an alarm clock. Record the amount of time you slept
each night and how you felt during the day. If you are bright and alert
all day long then chances are, you got the amount of sleep that you need
to function well. This is your particular required amount of sleep
each night.

Once you have determined the amount of sleep you need on average,
begin to make sleep as much of a priority as the other things in your
life. Remember, actually letting yourself sleep may just result in
getting more done in your waking hours than if you push yourself to go
with as little as sleep as possible.

As much as possible, go to bed at a regular time each night. Allow
your body to get used to the routine of a regular bedtime, which will
eventually result in being able to fall asleep more easily at night.

Once you eliminate your sleep debt, purposefully get up at the same
time every day as well. Our bodies do well with routine, and that
includes what time we go to bed and what time we get up. As tempting as
it is to deviate from this routine on weekends and vacations, it’s wiser
to stick with it. Then, when your work week starts up again, your body
is already in routine and doesn’t need to take 1-2 days to get back to
it, during which time you get that old sluggish feeling back.

Avoid stimulating activities before bed such as watching TV and
exercise. If you must participate in these things, set aside at least an
hour to settle your body and your mind down. Use that hour for a warm
bath or for reading.

Make your bedroom a place of relaxation and comfort. Do not bring
work into the bedroom, refrain from moving a television in to it, and as
much as possible, even keep marriage “discussions” out of it. Thus,
when you go to your room each night, your body automatically responds to
it as a place of rest instead of a place of activity.

Invest in a great mattress that you find comfortable. Same with a
pillow. Having a comfortable bed will do wonders in getting adequate
amounts of sleep each night.

Avoid heavy meals and caffeinated beverages in the hours before
bedtime. If you can do it, cut your caffeine consumption off at
lunchtime each day.

Have a bedroom that is dark and quiet. If you live in a highly lit,
high traffic area, this will mean heavy drapes and a white noise maker.
Keeping an atmosphere of darkness and quietness will prevent you from
being roused out of needed, deep slumber several times a night.*

As much as possible, quiet your heart and mind in preparation for
bed. Some of us have minds that run non-stop, seeming to kick into high
gear just as we’re trying to settle down for the night. If you are one
of those people, keep paper and a pen beside your bed and jot everything
down in order to eliminate some of the clutter in your head.

Relaxation and deep breathing exercises can also play a role in
alleviating anxiety and tension that may prevent you from falling into a
deep sleep each night. Soft music is another possible sleep aid as
well. Do whatever works for you.

Sleep is one of the first things neglected in a busy lifestyle but
one of the most crucial elements needed to make a busy lifestyle work.
If you have to, schedule in sleep just like you would schedule in
important appointments, and make it a goal each night to get what you
need.

Sweet dreams.

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