Sleep Is That Golden Chain That Ties Our Health and Our Bodies Together

Since I’m not in Pasadena ringing in the New Year with my fellow Spartans (jealous – it’s 70+ degrees and sunny) I figured I might as well get busy with my first blog post of the year. This post was inspired by one of my own personal goals for the year.  I have many, but one of the most challenging is going to be my goal of getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep on MOST days of the week.  Many times I am not the one who is the one interrupting my sleep. It seems as though my kids just don’t like me to get sleep or something. So, I’m going to have to get them on board with this goal too. I won’t bore you with any of my other goals for the year. Instead, I am going to share some interesting findings from the National Sleep Foundations Sleep in America poll.  Much of it centered on sleep and physical activity.  Sleep is severely underrated.  It is as underrated exactly as much as News Year’s Eve is overrated actually – scientific fact.   Before I share some of the interesting findings from the survey, here are some of my recommendations when it comes to sleep.

Good Sleep Habits
Although it seems like common sense, it doesn’t hurt to make sure that you are practicing good sleep habits.  Here are the recommendations that I have for anyone who is experiencing sleep issues or trying to improve sleep quality:

  • Make sure to get regular, vigorous physical activity.  If you increase the intensity of your workouts you might find that doing vigorous activity may be better for you in the morning. Some people might find they are wide-awake if they exercise vigorously within a few hours of bedtime.  Also, increasing the intensity of your activity can significantly affect your post exercise oxygen consumption as well as affect your hormones so be aware of this – it might mess with your sleep!
  • I recommend trying to get as much of your exercise during daylight hours and do it outside in the fresh air if possible.  If you live where I live, you might be forced to exercise indoors because the roads are so ridiculously icy you can’t even get down to the end of your driveway without taking a spill.  However, when possible, get outside.
  • Don’t take naps.  If you are so exhausted during the day that you have to take a nap – don’t do it.  You are better off to move your bedtime earlier if you are inclined to take naps.
  • Try to keep a regular schedule as much as possible.  That includes the time you go to sleep and the time you wake up.  Your weekends might allow you to stay up later.  Try to get to sleep as close to your week-day times as usual and don’t sleep in several hours past the time you would normally wake up during the week.
  • Make sure that the environment you sleep in is dark, cool, and free of noises that will wake you up unnecessarily.
  • Don’t go to bed really hungry or too full.  You are better to go to sleep with less in your stomach.  Digestion takes work for your body and can increase body temperature.
  • Limit your exposure to electronics a few hours before bed.  If you like to read before bed, I would suggest that you stick to the old school version of good-old-fashioned books.
  • Don’t hang out where you sleep.  Simple as that. Don’t lie where you sleep working on your Ipad, laptop, or watching TV.  Use the space for sleep.
  • Manage your stress as best as possible.  A tool that works well for me is to keep a notepad by my bed.  It’s inevitable that when your head hits the pillow that you might start thinking about all kinds of stuff.  I use pen and paper to help me “park” all the stuff I need to remember or worry about so that I know I can pick it up in the morning. Laying around thinking and worrying about it doesn’t do anyone any good. Either get up and do something about it, or pick it up in the morning.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants.

NSF 2013 Sleep in America® poll

The National Sleep Foundation commissioned WB&A Market Research to conduct a national survey of Americans regarding their sleep habits – the NSF 2013 Sleep in America® poll. This poll is an annual review of habits, behaviors and attitudes pertaining to sleep and sleep quality. The study includes measures of sleepiness, drowsy driving, sleep disorders and general health. The National Sleep Foundation has conducted the Sleep in America® poll since 1991. The poll is representative of the U.S. population, age 23 to 60, with a primary focus of the 2013 poll being to evaluate the relationship between sleep and physical activity.  A total of 1,000 surveys were conducted, 500 surveys were completed via the Web and 500 via telephone interviews.

Exercise Intensity and Sleep Quality

Data from the 2013 Sleep in America® poll overwhelmingly support the proposition that “Exercise is good for sleep”. The study highlights findings showing that although those who exercise and do not exercise report very similar sleep needs and sleep patterns, those who exercise are more likely to say, “I had a good night’s sleep” on both work nights and non-work nights.  The proportion of those who categorize themselves as vigorous exerciser, moderate exerciser and light exerciser, and report very good or fairly good overall sleep quality (83%, 77% and 76% respectively) is significantly higher than those who categorize themselves as no activity or non-exerciser (56%).

The data from the 2013 Sleep in America® poll not only shows that exercise is good for sleep, it also shows that those who classify themselves as vigorous exerciser generally have the best sleep. Approximately one-fourth (26%) of respondents who classified themselves as vigorous exerciser reported very good sleep quality. Not only does the vigorous exercising subset of respondents report the largest proportion of very good sleep quality, this is significantly higher than those who classify themselves as light exerciser (16%). Vigorous exercisers also report the largest proportion of satisfaction with the amount of sleep they actually get compared to the amount of sleep they report needing. Vigorous exercisers (66%) are significantly more likely to report getting more sleep than needed as compared to moderate exercisers (53%), light exercisers (53%) and non-exercisers (34%)

Exercise and General Health

“The proportion of non-exercisers who report poor health (12%) is significantly larger than vigorous exercisers (1%), moderate exercisers (1%) and light exercisers (2%). Notably, the proportion of non-exercisers who report fair health (30%) is also significantly larger than vigorous exercisers (8%), moderate exercisers (10%) and light exercisers (19%).”

Exercise, Sleep, and Daily Activities

“Interestingly, compared to those who exercise, non-exercisers report the highest proportion of having trouble staying awake while driving, eating or engaging in social activities at least once a week in the past two weeks (14% vs. 4%-6%).”

Caffeine and Medication Consumption

“Those who report no activity say they consume an average of 5.0 caffeinated beverages on a workday, significantly more caffeinated beverages than their exercising counterparts (vigorous: 3.1 beverages, moderate: 3.3 beverages, light: 3.6 beverages).   Non-exercisers may also be coping by taking medicine to help them sleep. When asked about their habits in the in the two weeks prior to survey, a significantly higher proportion of non-exercisers reported that they took medicine to help them sleep (34% vs. vigorous 17%, moderate 19% and light 21%).”

Exercise and Sitting Time (See my piece “Is Sitting the New Smoking?)

“Segmenting the 2013 data by hours spent sitting in the prior seven days to the survey, it demonstrated an interesting finding in the relation between sitting and sleep quality. Those who sit less per day report better sleep quality, as well as better health quality.  Those who say they spent less than 6 hours sitting per day (22%) and those who say they spent 6 to less than 8 hours sitting per day (25%) in the past seven days, report very good sleep quality. This is significantly higher than those who spent 8 to less than 10 hours sitting (15%) or those who spent 10 hours or more sitting (12%) per day in the past seven days.”

Exercise Time of Day and Sleep

“While some believe exercising near bedtime can adversely affect sleep and sleep quality, no major differences were found between the data for individuals who say they have done vigorous and/or moderate activity within four hours of bedtime compared to their counterparts (those who did vigorous or moderate activity more than four hours before bedtime). According to the 2013 Sleep in America® poll, the conclusion can be drawn that exercise, or physical activity in general, is generally good for sleep, regardless of the time of day the activity is performed.”

Sleep is that golden chain that ties our health and our bodies together. ~Thomas Dekker

Leave a Reply