Is sleep that important?Is sleep that important?

“I am so tired!”

Is this how you feel? Have you ever said things like “Sleep is overrated,” “Sleep is for people who have nothing better to do,” or — my personal favorite — “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”?

If you are one of the one in three Americans not getting enough sleep, this just might be the case.

While you sleep your body is doing thousands of housekeeping jobs. Sleep heals your heart and blood vessels. Adequate amounts of sleep are necessary for healthy bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside the bones that contains stem cells, which eventually form blood cells in the body.

Not enough sleep can affect your health badly in so many ways. Scrimping on sleep slows down the activity in the brain and sets you up to make bad decisions. It dulls the brain’s frontal lobe, the location of decision making and impulse control.

Not enough sleep can affect your appearance. Several years ago, a small Swedish study found that people who were photographed after 31 hours of sleep deprivation were perceived as less healthy and attractive than when they were photographed after a full night of sleep. Sleep deprivation elevates levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, compromising the health of your skin. If you don’t get enough sleep, you could find yourself getting sick a lot more often. And one more little nugget, if all of this isn’t enough — too little sleep can contribute to weight gain. Yikes!

It’s not so much that if you sleep you’ll lose weight but that too little sleep hampers your metabolism and contributes to weight gain. Researchers found that when dieters cut back on sleep over a 14-day period, the amount of weight they lost from fat dropped by 55 percent, even though their calories stayed equal. They felt hungrier and less satisfied after meals, and their energy was zapped. Within just four days of insufficient sleep, your body’s ability to process insulin — a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches, and other foods into energy — drops by more that 30 percent.

When you are sleeping, your body is detoxing, taking care of the clean up after all you have been eating, drinking, and absorbing throughout the day. Bottom line: If you don’t get enough sleep, your “clean-up crew” doesn’t show up for work, and that will make you feel sluggish, less productive, and just plain tired.

That’s all great, but how do we achieve that wonderful and much needed sleep?

Here are my 10 favorite tips for getting those much needed ZZZ’s.

Power down

The soft blue glow from a cell phone, tablet, or digital clock on your bedside table may hurt your sleep.

Tip: Turn off TVs, computers, and other blue-light sources an hour before you go to bed. Cover any displays you can’t shut off. Sleep is important!

Nix naps

You’ll rest better at night. But if you have to snooze while the sun’s up, keep it to 20 minutes or less. Nap in the early part of the day.

Tip: Overcome an afternoon energy slump with a short walk, a glass of ice water, or a phone call with a friend.

Block your clock

Do you glance at it several times a night? That can make your mind race with thoughts about the day to come, which can keep you awake.

Tip: Put your alarm clock in a drawer or under your bed, or turn it away from view.

Put your neck in “neutral”

Blame your pillow if you wake up tired with a stiff neck. It should be just the right size, not too fat and not too flat, to support the natural curve of your neck when you’re resting on your back. Do you sleep on your side? Line your nose up with the center of your body. Don’t snooze on your stomach. It twists your neck.

Tip: Use good posture before bed, too. Don’t crane your neck to watch TV.

Set your body clock

Go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day, even on weekends. This routine will get your brain and body used to being on a healthy snooze-wake schedule. In time, you’ll be able to nod off quickly and rest soundly through the night.

Tip: Get out in bright light for 5 to 30 minutes as soon as you get out of bed. Light tells your body to get going!

Look for hidden caffeine

Coffee in the morning is fine for most people. But as soon as the clock strikes noon, avoid caffeine in foods and drinks. Even small amounts found in chocolate can affect your ZZZs later that night.

Tip: Read labels. Some pain relievers and weight loss pills contain caffeine.

Eat right at night

Don’t eat heavy foods and big meals too late. They overload your digestive system, which affects how well you sleep.

Tip: Finish eating at least an hour before bed.

Rethink your drink

Alcohol can make you sleepy at bedtime, but beware. After its initial effects wear off, it will make you wake up more often overnight.

Tip: Warm milk and chamomile tea are better choices.

Lower the lights

Dim them around your home two to three hours before bedtime. Lower light levels signal your brain to make melatonin, the hormone that brings on sleep.

Tip: Use a 15-watt bulb if you read in the last hour before bed.

Know when to see your doctor

Let her know if your sleeplessness lasts for a month or more. She can check to see if a health condition — such as acid reflux, arthritis, asthma, or depression — or a medicine you take is part of the problem.

Now that you have some tips and tools, let’s get some sleep!

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