is an essential part of good health, as important as a balanced diet
and regular exercise. Unfortunately, most Americans view sleep as a
waste of time. "We as a society donít place enough value on
sleep," says Steve Gardner, director of marketing for the Sleep
Wellness Institute and executive director of the Reggie White Sleep
Dr. Rose Franco,
associate director of the Sleep Disorders Program at the Medical
College of Wisconsin, says people donít make sleep a priority.
"We need to do a better job of making time to sleep," she
A study by the
National Sleep Foundation indicates that 60 to 70 percent of the
population in the United States doesnít get enough sleep at night.
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but most people
average just six and one-half hours. When you donít get enough
sleep, your body develops a sleep debt ó one of the hardest debts to
repay, Gardner says. "It keeps accumulating and you feel more and
brain will make up for some sleep deficit, continuing to restrict
sleep over time impacts the quality of sleep. "Itís a misnomer
that you can catch up on lost sleep because itís not healthy
sleep," Franco says. When continuously deprived of sleep, youíre
less likely to cycle into delta sleep, the deepest stage of sleep when
the body rejuvenates itself most.
Lack of sleep
sets people up for serious health problems, Gardner says. Prolonged
sleep deprivation subjects your body to tremendous stress, increasing
your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Inadequate sleep also puts people at higher risk for obesity because
they lack energy and become less active during the day. In addition,
sleep debt promotes hunger. "Your brain gets confused and asks
for more fuel, so now youíre less active and youíre consuming more
calories," Franco says.
formal studies have been conducted on the relationship between sleep
deprivation and premature aging, both Gardner and Franco agree itís
easy to tell a person is exhausted just by looking at them. "It
makes you look more haggard," Franco says.
Here are some
simple tips for better sleep:
> Keep the
same sleep schedule on weekdays and weekends.
keeping the same sleep schedule seven days per week, deviating your
bedtime or wake-up time by only an hour or two. "The best time to
sleep is between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.," Franco says. "Thatís
when most peopleís brains want to go to sleep. When you ignore sleep
signals you end up with a chaotic schedule and your body doesnít
react properly to the sleep it has gotten."
> Establish a
relaxing bedtime routine.
bedtime routine helps separate sleep time from daytime activities.
"Follow a quiet routine similar to what you have in place for
your kids," Franco suggests. "An hour before bed, take a hot
bath, read or watch a TV show."
> Create a
Gardner says the
best way to promote good sleep is a dark bedroom and a comfortable
bed. "The room shouldnít be too hot or too cold," he adds.
And turn the alarm clock away from you so you canít see the light
the digital face emits ó just that small amount of light can disturb
your bedroom for sleep.
amount of distractions in the bedroom, including TVs, computers and
cell phones. "Use the bedroom just for sleeping," Franco
says. "Minimize the intrusiveness of society ó turn off your
cell phone and computer."
If you struggle
with occasional insomnia, itís OK to try over-the-counter sleep
aids, Franco says, but if youíre using these products several times
a week, itís time to see your doctor. "If you have trouble
sleeping for more than just a few nights, donít wait," Gardner