This is the second post related to this area of the Wheel of Health. Previously, I discussed Exercise and Movement. Today, I will focus on Rest/Sleep and why it is just as important for your overall wellbeing.
While movement and exercise are important for good health, so are rest and sleep. Our bodies need down time to recover from physical activity. Although sleep needs vary by person, in general the recommendation is 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night for adults. However, almost a third of adults in the United States report sleeping less than 7 hours per night. If we don’t sleep enough, the body can’t complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. We also wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully in work, school and social activities.
The quality of sleep matters as much as the quantity. Many of us are so busy that we find it difficult to “turn off” when it is time to sleep, resulting in sleep that does not restore us. We’re likely to have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping soundly.
If you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep, consider these sleep hygiene recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Even on weekends, avoid going to bed or waking up more than an hour later than usual.
- Use bright light to help manage your internal “body clock”. This means avoiding bright lights in the evening and exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime ritual such as taking a warm bath, reading a calming book, lighting candles or listening to soft music.
- Create an environment that is conducive to sleep. The bedroom should be quiet, dark and cool. Consider removing work materials, televisions, computers and other electronic devices. Be sure that your mattress and pillow are comfortable.
- Reduce or eliminate your intake of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, particularly later in the day.
- Regular exercise can help with sleep, but avoid moderate to intense workouts close to bedtime as they can have the opposite effect.
If you try some or all of these methods and still struggle to get adequate sleep, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional. S/he may recommend a sleep study to determine if there are underlying medical issues that are interfering with your sleep.
In addition to adequate sleep, it is also important to allow yourself time to rest and relax (good old “R&R”). That might mean walking in the woods. Or fishing. Or lying on the couch with a good book. Whatever you find calming and restorative. This applies to taking breaks during the work day too. Many of us may find it difficult to do so in our culture that emphasizes working long hours and being plugged in 24/7, but a growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion. So, let go of the guilt and make time for yourself. You won’t regret it.