This holiday season, try sleeping in

by Karen Bowen

Take advantage of your holidays this New Year’s and sleep in. Getting enough sleep is vital for maintaining a healthy body and mind, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Even so, millions of people do not regularly get enough sleep.

Recent surveys show that more than 40 million North Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders. Sixty per cent of adults complain of sleep problems at least a few nights a week.

Since most of these problems go undiagnosed and untreated, over 40% of adults regularly experience daytime sleepiness that interferes with their daily activities at least a few days each month or even a few days a week. North Americans are typically sleeping less than six hours a night and 75% of all adults have trouble falling asleep at least twice a week.

Occasional insomnia, caused by stress, job-related pressures, a family or marriage problem and/or health issues, is usually nothing to worry about. The resulting sleep issues disappear when the stressor disappears.

Identifying other causes and making subsequent changes may be your ticket to consistent, restful dreamland.

Drinking, eating and living habits can keep you awake. Drinking beverages containing caffeine or alcohol in the afternoon or evening, following an irregular morning and nighttime schedule, exercising close to bedtime, and working and/or doing other mentally intense activities right before or after getting into bed can keep you awake. Give your mind and body time to wind down at the end of the day.

Being on call 24/7 can also disrupt regular sleep patterns. If you have your messaging device tucked under your pillow so you don’t miss a dispatch, you are not going to fully relax. Certainly, a heavy workload can crowd your sleep schedule. Allow yourself downtime.

Your environment can also be at fault. A bedroom that’s too hot, cold, noisy and/or bright can disturb your sleep. Noisy people in the motel hall can also interrupt your rest. Adjust the thermostat and the blinds. Use earplugs.

Some medications, like decongestants, steroids and some medicines for high blood pressure, asthma, or depression, list sleeping difficulties as a possible side-effect. Check with your doctor for possible substitutes.

In fact, it is a good idea to talk to a physician about any sleeping problem that recurs or persists for longer than a few weeks because extended sleep loss can impact your memory, metabolism, safety, mood, cardiovascular system and immune system.  

Sleep helps you remember by giving the brain the opportunity to commit new information to memory through a process called consolidation. Studies have shown that people who sleep after learning a new task are able to perform it better in the future than others who didn’t sleep.

Sleep helps you maintain your weight because it stabilizes the way your body stores and processes carbohydrates while optimizing the hormone levels that affect appetite.

Sleep helps you drive safely because it ensures alertness during the day. Drowsiness during work can lead to errors in judgment and accidents.

Sleep decreases irritability, impatience, lack of concentration and moodiness.

Sleep helps your heart maintain a regular heartbeat by decreasing the amount stress hormone your body produces.

Sleep boosts your immune system and gives your body a chance to flush toxins from the liver, kidneys, lymph and colon.

So, how much sleep is enough? Most healthy adults function best with eight hours of sleep. However, you may stay awake and alert after only six hours of sleep while others need 10 hours just to make it through the day.

To be sure you’re getting enough sleep, just pay attention to your body. As a truck driver, you’re in the high-risk group for sleep deprivation. Truck drivers, night shift workers, physicians, parents and teenagers typically only average around six hours each day. According to the DoT, up to 4% of all highway crashes are related to sleepiness, particularly in the late night or early morning.

Guard the final, fifth stage of your sleep. It’s when your muscles are fully relaxed, dreaming occurs and memories are consolidated. If this time is cut short, or interrupted, you will miss the rest your body and mind requires.

To fight sleep problems take these steps: Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule. Avoid drinking or eating caffeine four to six hours before bed and minimize daytime use. Avoid drinking alcohol and/or eating heavy meals before going to bed. Avoid smoking, especially near bedtime or if you wake up in the night. Get some regular exercise. Maintain appropriate noise, light and temperature levels in your sleep area. Try and wake up without an alarm clock – sleep as long as your body and mind require.

A new year is ahead of you. Review these tips. Then, so you can commit them to memory, sleep on it. Have a healthy New Year!

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