Vail Daily column: Get enough sleep to be your best
August 30, 2010
The waning of another beautiful summer and inevitable progression to fall often signals other important transitions in our lives. Will you be ready to rise to the occasion?
Going back to school is like getting ready for any big event. If you don’t prepare, or help your children prepare, then you will face the risk of falling behind at the starting line.
Specifically, there is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. Summer habits frequently follow daylight. Our children are more often up late followed by either sleeping in or falling behind on sleep. If they do fall behind, there is no such thing as catching up. Our bodies may feel rested, but it takes longer than one night for our minds to catch up. To be at our peak, our minds need a full night’s sleep. Too little sleep and grades may suffer as well as athletic performance and mood. We all know what monsters we may create, or become, when we don’t get enough sleep.
The facts are astounding. Too little sleep may result in any of the following: falling asleep in class, difficulty waking up in the morning, inability to concentrate, and even depression. One study found that sleep may have a significant affect on grades: teens who got the least amount of sleep earned C’s and D’s, whereas teens who got the most sleep tended to get A’s and B’s. If you witness any of the above negative affects, recognize that your son or daughter may be sleep deprived.
How much sleep does one need? Newborns sleep the most, as many as 18 hours a day. That need for sleep drops to 10 or 11 hours by age five. This remains constant until adolescence where the sleep required drops to about nine hours. Then as adults, we need seven or eight hours a night to be at our peak.
Go to bed when you are tired, but get up at the same time every day. Your body’s clock is set when you get up, not when you fall asleep. Some other important habits to follow in order to get a good night’s sleep for children and adults alike include:
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•-Don’t drink beverages with caffeine, such as soda and coffee, after dinner.
• Don’t use a computer right before bed. Light signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up.
• Don’t pull an “all-nighter.” For children (think sleepover parties or homework) and adults (the reasons are endless) staying up all night, or even a good part of the night, can really mess up sleep patterns, requiring several days to re-adjust.
• Do exercise regularly, but not right before bed. Exercise releases hormones that energize us. That’s a good thing for the morning or afternoon, but not at night.
• Do try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. We all have natural circadian rhythms, which work best if we don’t fight them.
• Do expose yourself to bright light in the morning to help wake up.
• Do follow good sleep hygiene. In other words, develop a regular, soothing habit in the evening to tell our bodies to get ready for sleep. Read, meditate, pray, change into something comfortable, or what ever works!
• Do try to stick with your regular sleep schedule on weekends, too. Again, you can’t catch up on missed sleep from the week before.
In addition, adults should follow these habits:
• Don’t nap excessively. For adults, napping more than 30 minutes may keep you from falling asleep later, taking away from your body’s physical sleep needs and leaving you lacking on a mental and emotional level.
• Don’t consume alcohol before bedtime. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it is even more likely to cause rebound insomnia. That’s a medical term, which refers to waking you up two or three hours later and making it more difficult to fall back asleep.
Finally, there is nothing more important before a big event (whether it’s the first day of school, an exam, or a business presentation) than a good night’s sleep!
Dr. Drew Werner is the vice chief of staff at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and the Eagle County Health Officer. He lives in Eagle with his family. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.