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It seems like there is a national health “awareness month” for almost everything now, so I was not all that surprised when I learned a few days ago that May is the national “Get Better Sleep” awareness month. And though I must admit, the concept of having an awareness month for sleep seemed a bit ridiculous to me at first, I do think that the importance of sleep in our overall physical and mental health cannot be overstated. The effects and dangers of sleep deprivation have been well documented. And let’s face it, we do not exactly need empirical research to tell us how much we suffer when we fell to get sufficient sleep. But even though we are well aware of how precious our zzz’s are to us, most adults in our country still fail to get enough quality sleep. We tend to think that if we lay in a bed for 7 to 8 hours, we should be rested. In response to this notion I just have one question: How’s that working for you?
My guess is that for most you, it just isn’t cutting it; you are probably still a bit tired when you wake up and near exhaustion around mid afternoon. That’s why products that claim to get rid of “that 2:30 feeling” are flooding the market. Now, there could be a number of variables contributing to your feelings of fatigue, and a good physical examination by your medical doctor is ALWAYS a good first step. Assuming that you do not have a general medical condition or nutritional deficiency that is causing the fatigue, one simple solution may be that you are just not getting the sleep you need. As I mentioned earlier, a commonly held misconception is that as long as we sleep for about 7 to 8 hours, it should be sufficient. This is wrong for two reasons:
Studies have found that when all cues to time of day are removed, most adults will sleep for an average of 10.3 hours out of every 24. Before the invention of artificial lights, people slept longer.
The truth is, even 10 plus hours may not be sufficient if it is not quality sleep. I think intrinsically, we all know this to be true; after all, we usually say we need a “GOOD night’s sleep”, not necessarily a “long night’s sleep.” Quality sleep generally means uninterrupted sleep. We need to be able to complete several sleep cycles each night. Sleep cycles vary in length for each person and among individuals, but one cycle typically last between 60 and 90 minutes.
I think I probably speak for a lot of people, especially parents of young children, when I say that I would gladly get more sleep if I could! I for one feel thrilled when I get a full eight hours of sleep. Fortunately, though we may not be able to get more sleep, we can address the other half of the sleep equation; we can BETTER sleep. Below I have outlined a few tips to improve the quality of your sleep. I challenge you to employ these suggestions for a couple of weeks, and see if you feel more rested.
I do want to emphasize that the suggestions above are for otherwise healthy adults who occasionally feel tired even after 7 to 8 hours of sleep. If you consistently feel tired, are unable to sleep, snore, stop breathing during sleep, or have any sleep problems that consistently interfere with your daily activities you should consult your medical doctor.
Talor Trenchard, a Paris, Texas native and happily married mother of two, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in applied psychology. She works as a licensed psychological associate therapist at The Child and Family Guidance Center of Texoma (www.cfgcenter.org) in Sherman, Texas. Talor is trained in psychological and neuropsychological evaluations and assessments and specializes in cognitive, achievement, and personality assessments. She has experience diagnosing and working with individuals with a variety of psychological conditions including but not limited to, ADHD, dyslexia, mental retardation, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia.