The Importance of Good Sleep

sleepWith the pace of life increasing for South Asians of all ages, there has been a decline on good quality sleep. Adults with countless personal and professional responsibilities often deprioritize sleep. However, South Asian children as young as 8 and teens have begun to lose sleep due to academic and extracurricular pressures as well.

Unfortunately, poor sleep quality has long lasting effects on physical and mental health. Insomnia seems to be a predictor for depression. However, not getting enough sleep wreaks havoc on our brains and affects our ability to remember complex information. A study conducted at the University of Chicago found that with better quality sleep, students had improved access to their memories. Further research has also found connections between sleep quality and learning, specifically the higher the sleep quality the faster we learn and the more information we retain. This has important consequences for academic and professional achievements, something that South Asians value highly.

Here are some tips on how to improve your sleep hygiene and obtain high quality sleep in order to maintain healthy body and mind:

1. Get enough sleep.  How much sleep is enough differs based on life stage and the individual. In general, newborns require about 16-18 hours a day and preschool children require 10-12 hours. School aged children and adolescents need about 9 hours per day. Based on the individual, some adults can suffice on 7 hours of sleep while others need closer to 9.

2. Have a set schedule. Our brains have internal alarm clocks and just as the sun rises and sets on cue, our bodies ramp up and wind down very regularly. Changing your bed time and waking up time often can affect your internal clock and result in poor quantity and quality of sleep.

3. Exercise early in the day. Try to exercise at least 5-6 hours before bed time as exercise releases endorphins and other hormones that triggers your brain to wake up and become active. Even if you fall asleep right away after exercising at night, often the quality of the sleep is not as good and you end up feeling tired the next morning.

4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. The myth that a nightcap can induce sleep is entirely false. Alcohol alters the quality of your sleep so that you wake up more groggy and less rested the next morning.You are also more likely to wake up in the middle of the night once the alcohol has been metabolized.

5. Avoid naps after 3pm. Also disrupting your internal clock, late afternoon naps, especially if they are longer than 1 hour, can negatively affect your ability to fall and stay asleep at night.

6. Turn off the computer and TV at least 1 hour before bed. The lights from TV and computer monitors can overstimulate your brain, forcing it to turn back on while it is trying to wind down for the evening. Reading a book or taking a bath are more relaxing and appropriate before bed activities that can encourage better sleep quality.

7. Go outside every day. Sunlight is crucial for maintaining our internal clock and our sleep patterns. Every day go outside in the sunlight for at least 30 minutes and be in natural sunlight. Bright lightbulbs do not adequately substitute for natural light.

8. Do not lie in bed awake. If you are awake for more than 20 minutes in bed, get up and go to another room to engage in a relaxing activity (which does not include TV or computer screens) until you get sleepy. Tossing in turning in bed can increase stress and anxiety which can make falling asleep even harder. For some, it creates a negative association with their bed and can create an unhealthy sleep pattern in the long run.

9. See a doctor if you snore or have sleep apnea. Both snoring and sleep apnea can be dangerous disorders to have as your brain does not receive adequate oxygen to the brain during sleep. This can leave you feeling exhausted in the morning despite having slept or a significant amount of time.

Nighttime is when our bodies and minds recharge. Without good quality and quantity of sleep, our days are disrupted and we can develop unhealthy patterns of coping, such as eating unhealthy food, skipping exercise, and pushing ourselves farther than is reasonable or healthy. In addition, poor sleep hygiene is connected with mental performance and emotional health. If you find yourself stumbling during a presentation or having trouble recalling what you studied for an exam, look to your sleep pattern and see if you are giving your mind and body adequate rest.

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