Sleep: The foundation for healthy habits

Getting at least seven hours of quality rest each night is essential for optimal health. Sleep provides the foundation for all of your daily habits and decisions. Sleep deprivation can negatively affect your mood and temperament, as well as your ability to focus on daily tasks.

By Stacy M. Peterson and Brooke L. Werneburg

Sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on both your mind and body. In addition to perpetuating serious health conditions, lack of sleep can negatively affect your mood and temperament, as well as your ability to focus on daily tasks. Plus, lack of sleep influences what and how much you eat. Since hormones are regulated during sleep, when you are sleep deprived, your hunger hormones become out of whack, which increases feelings of hunger and decreases satiety. It's not a coincidence that you find yourself reaching for bagels and muffins when you're exhausted.

Furthermore, sleep allows time for your mind and body to recover from the day's work, and these important processes are cut short when you don't get ample shut-eye. During the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, your brain sorts the important information from the unimportant and files long-term memory. If this stage of your sleep cycle is shortchanged, your mental focus and acuity may decrease. Plus, you may feel cranky and short-tempered.

Need more incentive to prioritize healthy sleep habits? Sleeping less than seven hours a night is associated with weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression, among other health risks. In addition, when you don't get enough sleep, you may experience increased body aches and pains, reduced immune function and impaired performance at work. All of these problems can have a ripple effect on your daily habits.

On the flip side, making sleep a priority can help you achieve your other wellness goals, such as stress management. When your body and mind are well-rested, you'll be able to respond to life with greater perspective and understanding. Try these tips for getting better sleep and creating the foundation for your overall wellness.

  • Set a sleep goal. Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep a night so that you have the energy to tackle everyday demands. Waking up refreshed will help you make smart decisions and stick to your diet and exercise plan. Sleep can help boost your motivation and willpower, making it easier to fend off temptations.
  • Establish a regular bedtime and honor it. The first step to behavior change is making a commitment toward what you want to accomplish and sticking to your plan. Establish a regular bedtime and stick to it as much as possible. That might mean putting your smartphone in another room so that you aren't tempted to scroll through your social media feed right before bed or setting an alarm to remind you that it's time to start getting ready for bed.
  • Eat healthier foods. When your body and mind are fatigued, you may misread hunger cues. The next time you find yourself wandering into the kitchen or mindlessly snacking at your computer, ask yourself if you may be tired rather than hungry. It's common to mistake fatigue or emotions for hunger.
  • Ease into sleep. Setting aside a little time before bed for relaxation can help you transition into sleep. Try deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, gentle stretching or guided imagery to help focus your attention away from worries and into the present. If your busy mind keeps you awake, jot down your thoughts in a journal or on a pad of paper by your bed.

The payoff for adequate sleep goes far beyond banishing dark under-eye circles (although that’s an added perk). Dedication to this healthy habit is one of the best steps you can take to a healthier you.

Experiments

  1. Keep a sleep diary for a week, and take note of any patterns you discover.
  2. Make a conscious effort to cut back on disruptive foods and beverages at night, such as rich and heavy meals, alcohol, coffee, caffeinated tea, and chocolate.
  3. Create a relaxing (screen-free) bedtime routine, such as taking a bath or reading a book.
Dec. 31, 2016 See more In-depth