It is common knowledge that getting your eight hours of sleep per night is necessary for health and vitality. Other than the obvious physiological benefits, the feeling of being properly rested boosts psychological and emotional well-being as well. Research shows that people are better able to handle stressful situations and even traumatic incidents when they are well-rested.
The advantages of getting good sleep regularly are many and well-known. But did you know that your waking time and how often you stick to it is just as important?
Advice from Australian Sleep Expert Dr. Carmel Harrington
Speaking to Whimn, Dr. Harrington explained: “Most people don’t know that the time you get up in the morning affects the time you will be able to fall asleep that night… When we see a bright light in the morning, our brain switches off the production of melatonin, and it is this off-switching that actually sets up our 24-hour body clock.”
So, if you’re not disciplined about being consistent with the time you get up each morning, you may not be able to fall asleep at night. Dr. Harrington maintains that a margin of error of about one hour is acceptable, but varying your wake time more than that can have detrimental effects on your sleep schedule and overall health and well-being. Poor sleep can cause irritability, increased stress, depression, lack of motivation, and trouble focusing.
Risks of Poor Sleeping Habits to Adults
Improper sleep habits can also affect other areas of your health – such as your dietary habits and sex life – and impede your alertness while driving and performing other complex tasks. Driving while tired can be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.
The human body is programmed to run on a series of circadian rhythms, our internally set 24-hour clock. Various physiological signals send messages that keep our internal clock running on schedule, such as when our eyes respond to the dark by flooding the brain with melatonin. The only way to properly maintain our circadian rhythms is with a regular sleep schedule.
Risks of Poor Sleeping Habits to Infants, Children, and Adolescents
For infants, lack of proper sleep causes irritability and difficulty recovering from small upsets, hunger, and discomfort. At this age, the brain is undergoing rapid development, and poor sleep can have a great detrimental effect. Crying and fussing are common symptoms, as well as a withdrawn attitude and an inability to enjoy games and play activities as they normally would. Poor eye-hand coordination and other developmental issues can be the result of chronic poor sleep.
For school-aged children, the effects of improper sleep habits become even more apparent. Impairments to a child’s memory can result. A short attention span may become an issue, as well as the inability to focus or problem-solve. Just about any complex tasks becomes a difficulty once chronic poor sleeping habits set in, and as they become an entrenched pattern, the habits worsen until the child’s circadian rhythm cannot function normally.
During adolescence, proper sleep is very important in forming the executive function within the brain. Decision making, planning, goal setting, organizational skills, and other important skills can all be affected by our sleep habits. Teenagers typically require 60 to 90 minutes longer sleep than an adult because it takes a lot of energy to undergo the changes of adolescence.
Risks of Poor Sleeping Habits to the Elderly
Sleep problems are often understood to be a normal part of the aging process, but many older adults enjoy a high quality of sleep. Older adults often experience a circadian rhythm that tends toward an earlier bedtime and an earlier waking time.
The effects of poor sleep in older adults can include memory problems such as difficulty creating new memories and retaining long-term memory. Balance problems can also be worsened by improper sleep habits.
Juggling Your Sleeping Schedule Priorities
If we cannot manage to maintain a schedule for both wake-up and wind-down times, which is the bigger priority for overall health?
Dr. Harrington counsels that “Both are important as they dictate the total amount of sleep someone gets. However, as our getting up time plays a role in what time we are ready to sleep that night, a regular wake-up time is probably more important. For this reason, it’s recommended that you don’t vary your wake-up time by more than an hour.”
Effective Ways to Develop a Healthy Sleep Regimen
For people of all ages, here are some tips on how to improve your sleep habits.
- Develop a bedtime ritual to wind-down. A calming activity performed right before bedtime creates separation between your sleep time and your activity time. Any activity that engages you in excitement or anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep and remain asleep.
- Avoid bright light before bed, especially blue light from cell phone screens and televisions. Consider using blackout curtains and eye shades to achieve a sunlight-free environment.
- Do not take naps, especially during the afternoon. The idea of a power nap is a fallacy and merely a stop-gap, not an effective long-term strategy for sleep hygiene.
- Practice strenuous exercise every day
- Consider the temperature of your bedroom. It should be kept as cool as an autumn evening.
- Your bedroom should also be free from noise and disturbances. Invest in some earplugs, a white noise machine, or a fan.
- A comfortable, supportive mattress is an important component for sleep. The lifespan of a mattress is 10 years at most, and only if properly maintained for cleanliness and wear-and-tear.
- A sturdy, clean pillow helps maintain an environment free from allergens.
- Keeping your bedroom tidy will prevent any slip-and-fall accidents or other injuries during the night, should you need to get up to use the washroom.
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