News and Tribune

April 11, 2013

FITNESS SOURCE: Exercise, proper diet key to falling asleep at night

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

> SOUTHERN INDIANA —  

It’s common knowledge that adequate amounts of sleep lead to good health and maximum performance at work and play.

But, many of us fail to get the recommended eight hours and, too often, we are left feeling drained before the end of the workday, much less before the end of an evening workout.

Skimping on the Zs can not only affect your performance in and out of the office, it can open the door to heart disease, cancers and other physiological ailments, says Judith Myers, Ph.D, registered nurse and associate professor at Indiana University Southeast School of Nursing.

Myers said the average adult should get between seven to hours of sleep a night. She added that senior citizens should log the same about of sleep, despite decreasing activity levels.

Myers said it is not required to get in eight hours each and every night, however.

She said if you deprive yourself of the recommended hours throughout the week, you create “sleep debt,” but if you pay that debt by catching up on sleep during the weekend, you receive the same benefits as someone who gets in seven to eight hours each night.

She said teenagers are notorious for creating sleep debt and catching up with late Saturday and Sunday mornings in bed.

Problems occur only when you don’t pay back that debt, she said.

“Eventually, you have to catch up, or your health can be affected,” Myers said.

For many working adults and busy parents, sleeping late on weekends isn’t an option, so getting proper amounts of sleep throughout the week is crucial.

Myers said inadequate amounts of sleep can impair the functionality of a person’s immune and hormonal systems.

She said sleep depravation can also lead to a host cognitive issues, including impaired judgment and memory.

And, Myers said those missed hours of sleep can become apparent in the workplace. She said studies suggests people without adequate sleep show 20 to 30 percent more errors while on the clock and a 14 percent increase in the time it takes to complete work-related tasks.

Even further, Myers said, without proper sleep, a person can show signs of depression and irritability, which can affect relationships at work.

“You are talking about interpersonal relationships, which are so important to us,” Myers said. “Especially, if you are regularly interacting with the public while at work.”

Although Myers showed that there are nearly countless threats to a person’s health, relationships and general well being, without proper amounts of sleep, good news awaits those tired eyes.

She also said there are a plethora of simple steps that can be taken to help almost anyone get the recommended amount of sleep.

And to little surprise, Myers’ suggestions to getting a good night’s rest are some of the same principles of good health.

Exercise, limited consumption of processed foods and exposure to sunshine, were among the doctor’s orders.

“Exercise is the most beneficial,” Myers said of helping your body ease into sleep at the end of the day.

And, extensive physical routines are not required. She said mild routines such as stretching, meditation and self hypnosis can all make sleep easier.

She said reducing the intake of chemicals included in processed foods and curtailing the use of refined sugar will also allow a person to drift off to sleep with less difficulty.

There are also virtually effortless habits people can include in their daily lives to help send them into dreamland, such as cutting down the stimuli when and where they decide to hit the pillow.

Myers said for some people the popularity of electronic devices has led to even fewer hours of quality sleep.

“All of our wireless equipment has impaired our ability to get deep, restful sleep,” Myers said. “Turn off all devices at night.”

She said something presumably benign as a blinking light on a charging cell phone or other devices can be enough of a stimulus to deter someone from easily falling asleep.

Creating an optimum sleeping environment can also keep a few dollars in your pocket.

Myers said by setting your home’s thermostat between 60 and 66 degrees creates the best temperature to prepare your body for sleep.

Myers said for those with a full schedule throughout the day, a 20-minute “power nap” can also be a valuable option.

“The evidence supporting the benefits of power napping is really clear,” Myers said, adding that the brief sleep can act as a reset to reinvigorate energy levels.