This Holiday, Give Yourself the Gift of Sleep!
The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year. If your schedule is packed with shopping, parties, family gatherings, and travel, don’t forget one of the most important factors to having a good time — getting enough sleep!
The correct amount of regular, restorative sleep has been found to help reduce stress and regulate mood, maintain mentally acuity, and help lose weight, among other benefits. Conversely, a consistent lack of quality sleep can lead to an inability to concentrate, headaches, and memory loss. Poor sleep can also compromise the nervous and immune systems, and has been linked to higher blood sugar levels, and other disorders.
A recent joint study by the Department of Forensic Molecular Biology at the Erasmus MC University Medical Center in Rotterdam and the University of Surrey Clinical Research Centre in England reveals that a severe lack of sleep creates a response in the immune system that is similar to the body’s immediate response when it experiences a stressful situation.
According to the researchers, the effect of sleep loss on white blood cells known as granulocytes showed a loss of day-night rhythmicity — in other words, the circadian rhythm of the granulocytes slowed — and their numbers also increased, particularly at night. This reaction directly mirrored the body’s white blood cell response to stress.
The results of the study are in line with other previous research that shows a link between lack of sleep and a negative immune system response. In March of this year, the University of Rochester Medical Center published results that showed that the immune system of older adults who do not get enough sleep responds to stress with inflammation, increasing the risk for mental and physical health problems.
These studies and others like them reinforce the fact that more quality, restful sleep not only helps us feel better — it may also help us avoid myriad poor mental and physical health conditions.
Be aware of the winter time blues
A sleep condition to be aware of during the winter months is seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, or “the winter time blues.” SAD is a very real form of depression that may affect six out of every 100 people in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Symptoms of SAD generally manifest in late fall, when the days become shorter and colder, and people enjoy less natural sunlight. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, feelings of sadness, hopelessness and helplessness, lack of energy, loss of sexual interest and usual pleasurable activities, irritability and restlessness, cravings for carbohydrates and overeating (which can lead to weight gain and compound negative and depressive feelings), trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping and/or insomnia and at the extreme end — thoughts of death or suicide.
Symptoms of SAD are usually most intense during the darkest months of the year, so it stands to reason that the farther a person lives from the equator, the higher the incidence of SAD occurs.
A person with SAD who suffers from sleep problems may go to sleep early and stay in bed for nine or ten hours, but not experience refreshing sleep. Because of a lack of restful sleep, people with SAD are often drowsy and have trouble concentrating and working during the day.
If you believe you are experiencing SAD-related depression and/or sleep disorders, please see a psychiatrist or sleep specialist about it. There are treatments such as morning light therapy that can offer some relief, so you don’t have to suffer unnecessarily through the winter blues.
Tips for a better night’s sleep
- Get more exercise. A study out of Oregon State University and published in the December 2011 issue of the Mental Health and Physical Activity journal suggests that regular physical exercise may encourage better sleep and less daytime fatigue.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. It’s important to go to sleep and wake up around the same time, even on weekends and during holiday breaks.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. Limit caffeine intake, especially close to bed time. Also, a study published last November in the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that the people who consumed alcohol fell asleep faster than those who did not consume alcohol, but as the night progressed, their sleep became shallow and disrupted, compared to the students who did not drink alcohol before they went to sleep.
- Make sure the bedroom isn’t too hot or cold. The ideal temperature for a good night’s sleep is somewhere around 65 degrees, according to many sleep experts.
- Dab some lavender oil on your pillow. According to a study by the College of Public Health Sciences, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, lavender oil caused significant decreases in blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature in subjects who inhaled lavender oil instead of just base oil.
- Make your bed. Making our bed is more than a routine chore. A recent Bedroom Poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that many people believe clean, neat and comfortable elements of the bedroom are important to getting a good night’s sleep.
- Have a cup of decaf bedtime tea. Certain teas, specifically those containing chamomile, help relax and induce sleep. Look for brands that contain chamomile or with names like “sleepy time.”
- White noise may help. If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, white noise — a constant ambient sound such as waves — can reduce background noise and help you fall asleep.
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