We’re all aware that it can cause relatively minor symptoms of drowsiness, irritability, and concentration difficulties. However, we now know that it can also create hormonal changes that can increase appetite, weight gain, obesity and an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. It is also a major contributor to a number of motor vehicle and on-the-job accidents.
In our modern, overdrive society, people generally sleep much less than they should. Specifcally, compared to citizens of a century ago, Americans today typically get an average of one to two hours less sleep than they used to. Changes that include electric lighting, increased work demands, and the endless quest for entertainment all have taken their toll on sleep patterns. Adults should get about seven to eight hours of sleep each night, children and infants require two to four hours more.
It’s critical that each person get a sufficient amount of horizontal downtime each night. However, even if you’re in bed, sleeping is a futile exercise if there is something preventing your from falling asleep. This is where “sleep hygiene” awareness comes in.
To maintain good sleep hygiene, be sure to take note of the following: Avoid caffeine in any form during the last half of the day and shun nicotine, which interferes with sleep. Don’t drink alcohol at night. Despite being a depressant, alcohol is not a sleep aid; it reduces the quality of sleep. Eating, listening to the radio, watching television, or working in bed all interfere with basic sleep functions. Vigorous exercise, while essential for maintaining health and promoting deep sleep, is not advisable during the hours before sleep, when it stimulates the nervous system and disrupts sleep.
On the topic of exercise and sleep, additional research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine and the 2nd World Congress on Exercise is Medicine demonstrates that morning workouts have the most benefits for sleep. Researchers with Appalachian State University found aerobic exercise performed at 7 a.m. produced significantly greater improvements in a person’s quality of sleep when compared exercise at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Subjects who participated in morning exercise spent more time in light sleep by 85 percent and more time in deep sleep by 75 percent. Exercising at this time also resulted in a 20 percent increase in sleep cycle frequency.
According to lead author of the study, Scott Collier, Ph.D., FACSM, this research has shown that appropriate timing for exercise can result in a greater quality of sleep. These results can help those who exercise reap even greater benefits from their physical activity.