May 18, 2016

Sleep Well this National Employee Health & Wellness Day

Sleep. Ever elusive to many, a precious few of us get enough these days. But how much do we really need anyway? And why do we have to sleep at all? Would it be a bad thing to skip a few Zzzz’s? This National Employee Health and Wellness day, let’s look more closely at this world of counted sheep and maybe, just maybe, sleep well for it tonight.

What goes on when we sleep?

Research on sleep is ongoing, but the latest theories have sleep accomplishing some impressive tasks. While we snooze, the body goes into repair and reorganize mode, cleaning up cell damage and applying learning to long-term memory. We go through 5 different phases when we sleep:

  • Stage 1 – Light sleep, just drifting off.
  • Stage 2 – Sleep starts, body temp drops, no longer aware of surroundings, and breathing evens out.
  • Stage 3 & 4 – Hormones released, muscles relax, tissues repair, and breathing slows.
  • Rapid Eye Movement (REM) – Eyes move back and forth, dreaming, muscle movement suspended, and long-term memory is made.



Get the right amount of Zzzzz’s

How much sleep you need seems to depend on age. The National Sleep Foundation recently updated their recommended ranges by age group. Here is a snippet of their latest counts:

  • Toddlers: 11-14 hours per night
  • Elementary school to Middle School: 9-11 hours per night
  • High school: 8-10 hours per night
  • College Students through Age 64: 7-9 hours per night
  • 65 and Older: 7-8 hours per night

There is some variation to these numbers, but for the vast majority of us, an average of 8 or so hours a night is what we should aim for.

Ever wonder why your cat or dog seem to sleep so much more than normal? Domestic cats need 16 to 20 hours of sleep a day, and are not nocturnal, but crepuscular – they are most active at dawn and dusk. Dogs need up to 18 hours of sleep a day, and with adequate exercise, can happily sleep most of the workday away!



Consequences of a late night(s)

Not getting enough sleep is unpleasant. Who wants to subsist off of caffeine all day? But inadequate sleep is more than just inconvenient. Driving on 18 or so hours without sleep is equal to a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. Students who stay up all night studying might fail to retain what they studied as well at those who got some rest before the test. Little rest coupled with severely irregular sleep habits can cause parasomnias, such a sleep paralysis or sleepwalking. Sleep is so essential that a lack of it would kill you before a lack of food did, and severe sleep deprivation can cause brain damage. Don’t worry too much though – the body does everything it can to force you asleep long before that happens.



Some usual culprits of Insomnia

Sometimes you have plenty of time to sleep, even get to bed early, but can’t seem to drift off! There is nothing worse than lying awake, staring at your bedroom ceiling and knowing you have to be up in a few hours. Here is a list of the usual culprits of insomnia:

  • Stress. At night, darkness triggers melatonin production to send us to sleep, and in the morning, building cortisol levels wake us up. But stress also ups cortisol production – bad news for a good night’s rest!
  • Caffeine. It probably comes as no surprise that caffeine will keep you up. But it may take longer than you think for its effects to fully wear off – over to 6 hours! So an espresso in the afternoon could keep you up after midnight.
  • Alcohol. While alcohol may make you drowsy, it actually wreaks havoc with the sleep cycle. Drink enough, and it can prevent you from entering deep REM sleep at all.
  • Odd sleep patterns. If you don’t go to sleep the same time each night, or even close to it, chances are your circadian cycle is a mess. You may think it is time for sleep, but your brain could have other ideas.
  • Blue light from devices. Blue light actually inhibits your brain’s production of melatonin (which tells your body to sleep), so spending time watching TV, playing on a tablet or checking Instagram on your phone could keep you up late into the night.



Sleep Aids

The best sleep aids are those without side effects, and thankfully there are a few simple remedies you can try to help yourself off to dreamland.

  • Create a restful, repetitive nighttime routine. Getting into a nighttime ritual can help your brain realize that it is time to power down for sleep.
  • Meditate if stressed. Usually, high stress is a product of many hours of worried thinking, and meditation acts as a kind of mental re-set, taking you back down to a calmness-base-zero.  There is no guarantee you won’t start to focus on problems, but a clear mind can help you see solutions – and either way, chances are good you might fall asleep before you can work yourself up too much.
  • Turn off devices, or apply a red filter. Red light doesn’t inhibit melatonin production, and there are a few apps out there that can change the light color of your devices. As for the lights in your home, LEDs emit a lot of blue light but low incandescent lights and candlelight are ok – just be careful with burning candles before bed!
  • Drink herbal tea, such as chamomile (unless you are pregnant). This tea has a mild sedative effect and can help you wind down for sleep.
  • If all else fails, try a natural sleep aid, such as melatonin in pill form. One huge caveat to note from the MIT Patent holder for the drug – taking too much will have the opposite effect, and most commercial brands are too high – sometimes way, way too high a dosage. So chop you pill in half until you get the recommended dose of .3 mg.


Rest is important, and an integral part of overall well-being. So take some time this National Employee Health and Wellness day to consider your own sleep needs. You will thank yourself in the morning!