Kelvin Brown, MD, MPH

Surgeon, Author, Bariatric Specialist, Serial Entrepreneur and Public Health Expert

Get Great Sleep to be Your Best

Do you get enough sleep to feel your best at work each day? If you’re like many Americans, you are sleep deficient.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the proportion of adults in the United States sleeping less than seven hours per night has increased from 16 to 37 percent over the past 40 years.  Not only can lack of sleep put undue stress on the body, it can result in physiological changes that affect your mood, relationships, and job performance. 

Americans used to sleep an average of 10 hours each night more than a century ago. But that was before Thomas Edison perfected the incandescent light bulb. Since the invention of Edison’s electric light bulb in 1880, the number of hours Americans sleep has greatly declined. When you add the addictive power of HD television and high-speed internet, is it any wonder that the average American today only sleeps six and one-half hours?

Sleep Stages

There are five stages of sleep. REM (rapid eye movement or dream stage) sleep is associated with psychological well‑being and feeling refreshed upon awakening.  People who are deprived of REM sleep complain of irritability and moodiness.

Stages 3 and 4 sleep (called deep or delta sleep) appears to be the most important sleep stage for physical recovery.  If sleep disturbances occur during this stage, you will wake up feeling tired and may complain of muscular aches and pains. 

Poor quality sleep also leads to lower levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is  a naturally occurring neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that is associated with a calming, anxiety-reducing feeling in the body.

When serotonin is depleted from lack of sleep, you may experience feelings of anxiety, malaise, and even depression. There are also studies showing that a decrease in serotonin triggers an increase in appetite, particularly for carbohydrates such as candy, pastries, and other baked goods.

Poor Sleep Decreases Alertness and Performance 

Not getting enough sleep causes changes in how you think. If you are sleepy during the workday, it can lower your concentration and short term memory.

Your energy, productivity, and attention to detail are all compromised. Some people who suffer with night after night of sleep loss often wonder if they have attention deficit disorder (ADD), a problem that is associated with an inability to focus or pay attention and sometimes behaviors that might be impulsive.

Poor Sleep Increases Risk of Car Accidents

Activities that involve total concentration, such as driving a car, are much riskier because of the tendency for a sleep deprived person's attention to wander without diversion or constant stimulation.  

The National Commission on Sleep Disorders concluded that drunk driving causes fewer fatalities than sleepiness. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation estimates that 100,000 traffic accidents and 1,500 fatalities occur each year due to driver fatigue. Studies reveal that the day following the switch to daylight savings time, when an hour of sleep is lost, traffic accidents increase by 7 percent. When we later gain the hour back going off daylight savings, we see the opposite - a 7 percent decrease in traffic accidents.

Tips to Help You Sleep Your Best

If you are serious about getting better sleep, try these suggestions:

Take a warm bath before bedtime. Sleep characteristically occurs when the body temperature is declining, whereas wakefulness occurs when the temperature is rising.

Take a warm bath before bedtime to enhance sleepiness and deeper sleep and keep your bedroom temperature cool (about 68 degrees).

Make your bedroom conducive for sleep. Wear earplugs if you are bothered by noises while sleeping. Some people find that "white noise"--a machine that produces a humming sound or turning the radio to a station that has gone off the air--helps.

Also, get “black out” shades for your room to make sure it is fully dark. Light is a cue for the body to awaken; darkness signals relaxation and sleep.

Wear a sleep mask if you are ultra sensitive to light and find it disrupts your sleep time.

Turn your clock with the face toward the wall so you are not tempted to check the time all night long.

Watch what you eat and drink.  Eating foods high in complex carbohydrates can raise levels of sorotonin in the body.

Also, try eating foods rich in B vitamins such as whole grains, peanuts, bananas, and sunflower seeds, which help to counteract the effects of stress.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol can cause you to fall asleep quickly but many people wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. Even one cup of coffee (150 mg of caffeine) can disturb the quality of sleep, increasing wakefulness and making it difficult to feel rested the next day.

Avoid nighttime exercise.  Some people who exercise close to bedtime have more problems relaxing and sleeping. This may be because exercise is stimulating, causing you to feel alert and raising the body temperature. The body temperature will begin to fall but not for five or six hours after exercise. The fall in body temperature then signals to the body that it is time to sleep. Try to exercise early in the day while you have energy or in the afternoon, so your body has time to calm down before you climb in bed.

Try these solutions until you find the right combination that relaxes you r mind and body and allows you to sleep 7 to 8 hours a night and awaken feeling rested and ready to take on the workday.