A good night’s sleep does more than refresh your body and mind. Adequate amounts of sleep decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and weight gain. Once you learn how to go to sleep and get a good night’s sleep, you also decrease your cancer risk.
The Relationship Between Sleep and Cancer Risk
Even if you eat a healthy diet and take up daily exercise, if you are not sleeping well, you are missing an important part of your healthy lifestyle. Recent studies, such as the one in the Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal, show an increased risk for cancer when inadequate sleep is occurring. For example, men who do not sleep well are twice as likely to develop cancer of the prostate. For women with poor sleeping habits, an increased risk of recurring breast cancer was found. People who work night shifts are shown to have similar health concerns due to lack of consistent sleep.
When you are unable to go to sleep and sleep well, you also risk gaining weight. Insufficient sleep interferes with your body’s ability to produce insulin. When insulin goes unchecked- weight gain occurs. Poor sleep also affects fat-regulating hormones and hunger-controlling hormones, which can trigger bouts of eating in which the extra calories are stored as fat. This extra fat leads to weight gain, which is often controlled by a good night’s sleep. Left unchecked, weight gain may lead to obesity and increase your health risks for diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Learning how to sleep well can help maintain a healthy weight.
Many things can interfere with your good night’s sleep. High stress from work, relationships and social pressures interfere with a good night’s rest. Other things to consider are:
- Light- even small amounts from your alarm clock or cable box.
- Noise- especially in the first and last hours of sleep.
- Temperature- excessive heat interferes with sleep.
- Using electronic gadgets prior to one hour before attempting sleep.
- Intake of caffeine.
- Health issues.
How much sleep do I need?
You may need more or less sleep than your partner or children. Sleep is a very personal issue and it is important for you to determine your needs. Your sleep needs are affected by your age, lifestyle and health, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It can be a trial and error situation. If you feel awake and alert after nine hours of sleep and you feel groggy and irritable after six hours of sleep, you need to schedule time for longer rests.
Based on age, the following number of hours of sleep each day are recommended:
- Zero to 2 months= 12 to 18 hours.
- 3 to 11 months= 14 to 15 hours.
- 1 to 3 years= 12 to 14 hours.
- 3 to 5 years= 11 to 13 hours.
- 5 to 10 years= 10 to 11 hours.
- 11 to 17 years= 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours.
- Adults over 18= 7 to 9 hours.
The National Sleep Foundation elaborates on how to calculate your sleep needs. You should base your calculations on your basal sleep needs and any accumulated sleep debt.
When determining how much sleep do you need, the best way is to pay attention to how you feel. Do not compare your needs for sleep with anyone else’s. The same is true for your children. Often, teens require as much sleep as infants. Your child grows during sleep. Also during rest, the body repairs and regulates hormones for weight control.
You know the feeling of being sleep deprived. You’re groggy, irritable, and prone to accidents, and you feel like you have “brain fog”. In addition, you are not focused and you react with extreme fatigue during those times of day when sleep calls the strongest such as mid-afternoon and after midnight.
If it takes you less than five minutes to fall asleep at night, you are sleep deprived. If you stay awake for 17 hours, your performance level is affected as much as if you consumed alcohol to the point your blood registered a level of 0.05 percent.
How long can you go without sleep?
The longest duration on record for lack of sleep is 18 days, 21 hours and 18 minutes. This occurred during a rocking chair marathon and the winner experienced hallucinations, memory lapses, loss of concentration, paranoid feelings and blurred vision.
Sleep is a necessary part of your day and should be scheduled it like many other activities. Try not to let anything interfere with your desired amount of sleep. If your rest is interrupted, aim to correct the sleep debt as soon as possible so you continue to function at peak performance.
After only five nights of semi-sleep deprivation, three alcoholic drinks affects your body the same as six drinks would if you had adequate sleep. A lack of sleep also suppresses your immune system which leaves you more susceptible to viruses and germs. One way to fight sleep deprivation and the side effects that come from it is learning how to sleep better.
How to go to sleep fast
An hour before bedtime, eat a snack that combines protein and carbohydrates. For example, eat peanut butter and crackers or hummus on whole-wheat pita. The protein produces the chemicals melatonin and serotonin to help you sleep.
A half hour before bedtime, complete a ritual. Choose one you can do every night to signal your mind that it is time for sleep. For example, wash your face and brush your teeth under dimmed lights, read a book or close your eyes and meditate or pray. Avoid turning on your computer or other stimulating activities.
Once you get into bed, take a few deep breaths. Inhale through your nose. Allow the breath to flow down your throat and into your stomach. Feel your stomach expand when you inhale and contract as you exhale and release the breath through your nose.
Other ways to improve how to sleep faster include:
- Going to bed at the same time every night, including the weekends.
- Waking at the same time every day, including the weekends.
- Listening to peaceful music an hour before bedtime.
- Remove all light sources such as alarm clocks, cable boxes, night lights, etc. Invest in room-darkening curtains to improve your sleep.
- Set your room temperature between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use a comfortable pillow, mattress and blanket.
- Avoid taking naps during the day.
- Exercise on a daily basis, but finish your workouts two to three hours prior to bedtime.
- Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only- avoid working, watching TV, using a computer or doing crafts in bed.
- Stop using electronic devices approximately one hour before attempting to sleep.
- Limit your intake of caffeine, especially in the hours prior to bedtime.
- Eliminate smoking nicotine, which is a stimulant.
If you continue to have difficulties when you try to go to sleep or are unable to stay asleep, consider speaking with your doctor regarding how to sleep better. If breathing difficulties such as snoring or sleep apnea are affecting your rest, your doctor may have immediate remedies. Medications such as sleeping pills may also help, but may only add 10 to 15 minutes more sleep to your night.
Before you speak with your physician, consider writing a sleep diary. Track your sleep patterns and anything else that affects your sleep such as physical activity, stress, diet and environment. The more information you can provide your doctor, the better he will be able to provide solutions.
Once you learn how to go to sleep, stick with the routine and schedule that works for you. Avoid conflicts and make yourself a priority. You’re a much more focused and confident person when you have adequate sleep, so remember that getting a full night’s worth is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
When you are stronger, you have more to give to others such as your family and your co-workers. Plus, you just feel better overall and are able to accomplish more.