Making and Taking Time to Care for You- Part 1: Sleep is Essential
Kayla Flores, MD
Family Physician at Advocate Aurora Health
As we plow full steam ahead into December our to-do lists continue to grow. Pressure and stress are mounting as we work diligently to meet deadlines and expectations. The responsibilities of work never end and now we have dinners to plan and cook, parties to host and attend, gifts to buy, in addition to our precious families to care for. In 2021 these usual seasonal stressors are accompanied by increasing worries about preserving our health amidst a pandemic that is sadly not over and receiving news nearly every day of our fellow sisters and brothers being afflicted by acts of injustice, and hatred.
As overwhelming, disheartening and exhausting as this list seems it also serves as a reminder for us to STOP, breathe and reflect.
If we allow it, despite our best of intentions, this season will wear us down and we will be left spent and deflated. So, for goodness’ sake STOP! Take some time to do a wellness check and give attention and care to all of what makes YOU wonderful YOU. Evaluate how you are feeling physically, mentally and spiritually.
Over the next several months, I will provide you with some valuable information and practical suggestions of how to put your wellness at the top of your priority list so that you can prevent burnout and keep doing what you do best!
Let’s start with SLEEP.
A necessary part of our physical wellness is sleep. Sleep allows our bodies the time to reboot and recover. Quality of sleep and quantity are equally important.
Are you tired? How much quality sleep are you getting?
According to the National Sleep Foundation 7-9 hours of quality sleep are needed each night. The sad reality is that most American adults average under this goal, operating under a perpetual state of sleep deprivation.1 Many studies have shown that inadequate sleep can lead to weakening of the immune system and increased risk of infection. Long-term sleep deprivation has been linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.2 There are clinical sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless legs syndrome that prevent individuals from obtaining the amount and quality of sleep needed to sustain a healthy life.2 However, our life choices and daily habits are most often to blame for our exhaustion. Cell phones, computers, and televisions used shortly before bedtime and left on throughout the night are robbing us of our quality sleep. The blue light emitted by these devices interrupts the release of melatonin preventing us from feeling sleepy. Blue light is also thought to decrease the amount of time spent in slow wave and REM sleep which negatively impacts memory and mood.3
Thus, the case is made: Resist the temptation to scroll through your Facebook and Instagram feeds in bed or to send those last few emails that can wait until tomorrow morning. As we all know, bad habits die hard but to start making sleep a priority consider implementing these tips.
· Keep the room where you sleep cool, quiet and dark. Turning the thermostat down at night will not only save you money on your energy bill but will also help you sleep better. Put your cellphone on dark mode, do not look at it in bed and keep the TV off. If you can’t sleep in silence invest in a white noise machine or turn on a fan. Blackout curtains are an excellent way to keep distracting streetlights from keeping you awake at night.
· Consider your intake and tolerance to caffeine. One cup of coffee contains approximately 95 mg of caffeine, a 12-ounce Coke contains 32 mg of caffeine, and a 12 ounce can of Red Bull contains 111 mg of caffeine. Some people are much more sensitive to caffeine than others. According to the FDA adults should limit their caffeine intake to no more than 400 mg per day.4 However, you must consider your body’s tolerance to caffeine. Too much caffeine and drinking caffeinated beverages too late in the day can prevent you from getting quality sleep.
· Exercise early in the day. A sedentary lifestyle can make sleeping at night difficult. Unspent energy will keep you awake thinking at night. However, vigorously exercising just before bedtime will not allow enough time for the core body temperature to cool and thereby prevent you from falling asleep.
· Set up a fixed sleep schedule in your phone alarm and try hard to not deviate from it.
· Read a book in print or spend time in prayer or meditation before going to bed. These healthy habits can help facilitate relaxation.
In this season of busyness let’s not forget to care for ourselves. By making sleep a priority each night we will awaken refreshed and better prepared to take on the challenges of the day!
1. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep in America polls. 2005 adult sleep habits and styles. Obtained from url: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-america-polls/2005-adult-sleep-habits-and-styles.
2. Ramar, K., Olson, E.J. Management of Common Sleep Disorders. Am Fam Physician. 2013 Aug 15;88(4):231-238. Obtained from url: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2013/0815/p231.html#afp20130815p231-b1
3. Sleep.org. Updated March 12, 2021. How Does Technology Affect Sleep? Obtained from url: https://www.sleep.org/ways-technology-affects-sleep/
4. US Food & Drug Administration. December 12, 2018. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? Obtained from url: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much