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bigstock-African-American-man-sleeping--228702001When people talk about health and wellness, the conversation generally turns to diet and exercise. And yes, what you put into your body and how you move your body are important. But have you ever considered how important sleep is to your overall well-being? We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and sleep is vital to overall body health, regulation, and restoration. Lack of sleep not only affects mood, productivity, and performance, but also can increase your risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, irregular hormonal function, and obesity.

Rebecca Robbins, post-doctoral research fellow at NYU Langone Health School of Medicine, along with her colleagues, explored over 8,000 websites to learn about what we thought we knew about healthy sleep habits and then presented those beliefs to a team of sleep experts. Some of their findings are listed below.

Adults should consistently get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. Getting enough sleep during young adulthood and middle age reduces the risk of obesity and high blood pressure, has been associated with decreased rates of depression, diabetes, a weakened immune system, and is one of the most important things we can do to improve future physical and mental health. Something else to consider…next day effects of not enough sleep impact attention span, memory recall, and learning.

Maintain a consistent bedtime. A new study in Diabetes Care found that having an irregular bedtime and getting different amounts of sleep each night increased chances of developing metabolic syndrome, raising a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Every one-hour increase in the variability of bedtime (going to bed at 10:00 one night, 11:00 the next, 9:00 the following, etc.) was associated with 23% higher odds of developing metabolic syndrome. According to Tianyi Huang of Harvard Medical School, “no matter how much people sleep, if they have irregular sleep schedules, they are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome.”

Turn off the TV and electronic devices two hours before bedtime. Electronic devices and TVs emit bright blue light which is what tells our brains to become alert in the morning. According to the National Sleep Foundation, blue light affects the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Watching TV or using an electronic device within two hours of bedtime means it will take you longer to fall asleep, you’ll have less dream state (REM sleep), and, even if you sleep eight or more hours, you’ll still wake feeling groggy.

Drinking alcohol before bed does not help your sleep. According to Dr. Robbins, drinking any type of alcohol before bed may help you fall asleep, but dramatically reduces the quality of sleep for the night. Alcohol disrupts REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is important for memory and learning.

Stop hitting the snooze button. When the alarm goes off, just get up. According to Dr. Robbins and her research team, hitting the snooze button puts your body into a very light, low-quality sleep. Then, when the alarm goes off again, your body will be in the middle rather than the end of a REM cycle and you’ll be even more sleepy and stay that way longer. The solution? Try putting the alarm across the room so you’re forced to get out of bed to turn it off. It also helps to open the curtains and expose yourself to as much bright light as possible.

As you can see, sleep is one of the most important things we can do to improve mood, health, well-being, and longevity. So, eat well, exercise, and get your sleep. Sweet dreams!

World Sleep Day