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It's Sleepy Time Down South

Why our society is so tired and how to start putting the emphasis back on sleep.



When I was younger, my family and I took a few trips to a beautiful hotel in West Virginia as part of a conference for my dad. Each night around 8 or 9pm, you'd see these signs go up in the hallways :

Photo credit: The Greenbrier Facebook Page

My sisters and I loved these signs -- they made an indelible mark on our childhood. Since that time, we quote this back to each other when we get together in early mornings or late nights after we put the kids to bed.


What I find most interesting and unique thing about these signs, though, rests on the fact that this hotel really embraced the idea of protecting sleep. As Americans, sleep remains one of our least valued commodities. People often use their fatigue as a badge of accomplishment ("I'm so tired because I'm so busy. I stayed up to work and only got four hours of sleep last night.") It's become a way to prove you're working extra hard. In fact, the CDC estimates that 1 in 3 adults does not get enough sleep (denoted as getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night.) What's more? It goes on to note that habitually getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night increases risk for numerous chronic disease, such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, and mental health concerns.


We're not just losing out on the amount of sleep. A study completed by the Sleep Foundation concluded that American struggle to get high-quality sleep, whether affected by insomnia, sleep apnea, or stress. Why does this matter, you might wonder? The quality of your sleep also directly impacts your health and wellness.


This all seems pretty grim. You might be thinking, "Great. I'm not getting enough sleep, which impacts my health, and now I'm stressed about it, which hurts my health more." I could understand someone feeling totally powerless to control this vicious cycle. With too much to do and not enough time, sleep often gets the boot for more pressing responsibilities (think: work, family, other commitments.)


Just a few more pieces of information about sleep:


The real key to success isn't totally overhauling your schedule all at once. Instead, begin to evaluate if the sleep you're getting is enough (both by quantity and quality).


Ask yourself the questions below, then consider what changes feel consistent with your life. For example, it might sound great to say you'll go to bed before 10pm every night, but in actuality, this is unrealistic.



What you might consider, instead, is how you to improve the sleep you're getting. Here are some categories to ponder.


Smart Devices:

Are you willing to shut off your smartphone and other devices two hours before bedtime?

How would it change your sleep habits to move your phone away from your bed?


Nutrition:

How close to bedtime do you eat?

When is your heaviest meal of the day?

Do you snack close to bedtime? If so, what do you consume?

How many cups of coffee/energy drinks do you drink in a day? When is the last one typically consumed?


Sleep Habits:

What lights, sounds, and alarms do you have in your room?

Is there a TV visible from your bed?

Do you try to go to bed around the same time each day? If so, what time? If not, what stops you?

What mechanism typically wakes you in the morning?

Do you snore or have difficulty breathing during the night?


Physical Space:

Is your bed comfortable?

How old is your pillow?


If you don't know the answers to some of these questions, consider writing a journal or diary to document your sleep habits. Information will empower you to make changes that last.


Will it be a challenge to change your habits toward improving sleep? Perhaps. Humans develop habits for a reason, and they're difficult to change unless you're motivated to make something different. So, just for a moment, consider what it would feel like to be rested and energized each day. Once you feel totally refreshed, you might understand the real value of uninterrupted sleep. After that, all that's left is making yourself a sign for your hallway. ;)

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