I have repeatedly heard that sleep is important for many reasons, but it wasn’t until becoming a mother to newborn babies that I realized that sleep is more than important-it is precious and necessary! I am very fortunate, as I have never had difficulty falling asleep and getting a good night sleep always came easy....until the children came along! With babies comes sleep deprivation and sleep deprivation crushes the ability to function in similar ways as physical illness or extreme mental distress. Thankfully, I can only faintly remember what being sleep deprived felt like, including feeling more irritable, having less ability to concentrate and remember (Where did I leave that dirty diaper!), experiencing decreased mood and decreased ability to manage stress (and are babies ever stressful!). Most of us are familiar with the emotional impact of an extreme lack of sleep, but even a slight shortage in sleep impairs both emotional and physical health. Sleep experts recommend that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night and children get at least 10 hours of sleep a day (with infants and toddlers getting more than 10 hours). Approximately 35% of adults report getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep each night and, as a result, suffer the consequences.
The consequences of inadequate sleep move far beyond moodiness and difficulty with concentration. Many would be surprised to know that individuals who do not get enough sleep are at an increased risk of developing serious illnesses such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and even an increased risk in early mortality! People who sleep poorly are also at an increased risk of developing anxiety and/or depression. We also know that those who suffer from mental illness have more difficulty sleeping, making the problem compounding. In an article by the Sleep Health Foundation, Psychologist Cathryn Curtin states, “Chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking, depression, anxiety and emotional vulnerability.”
So...sleep is very important! Tips for getting more rest include: establishing a consistent sleep routine, avoiding electronics a couple hours before bedtime, getting regular exercise, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine in the evening and participating in whatever is relaxing for you (e.g. reading, taking a bath, meditation, etc.). Good luck and sleep tight!
(Jessica Clement is a Licensed Professional Counselor at CHI St. Alexius Health’s Employee Assistance Program.)