The Crusader Newspaper Group

Can you ever truly catch up on sleep?

With kids on summer break, social gatherings, holidays, summer vacation travel and not to mention longer daylight hours, you may be facing a dramatic shift in the number of hours or the quality of sleep you get. You can always catch up on sleep later, right?

Wrong.

Erasing sleep debt can take up to nine days, but the impact of not getting enough rest on your health can last much longer.

In fact, lack of sleep has been linked to chronic health conditions, like heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, depression, and not to mention fatigue and increased risk of injury.

“So much of our day is spent in fight or flight mode, whether we recognize it or not,” explains Debbie Stamm, a nurse practitioner who specializes in integrative medicine at Advocate Health Care. “Sleep is the chance for our body to rest and digest. The longer you spend awake in fight or flight mode, the more detrimental it is to your health today. Unfortunately, it can lead to chronic issues as well.”

Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kids may need as many as 14 hours of sleep, including naps, depending on their age. To encourage more and better sleep, Stamm offers a few suggestions that you can easily integrate into your routine:

  1. Have a ritual. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to establish a routine for your body. Even better, set aside at least 30 minutes to wind down at the end of your day, being sure to close your laptop and leave your phone in another room. Stamm suggests a soothing cup of decaffeinated tea, especially one that includes chamomile, passionflower or lavender to help you relax.
  2. Spend time outside. Being exposed to sunlight and nature can calm your nervous system and help increase your body’s production of melatonin – the hormone responsible for maintaining your sleep-wake cycle. City dwellers, you can get some of the same benefits from looking at pictures of nature. Set your phone’s background screen accordingly.
  3. Get moving. Physical activity can help you burn off extra energy and get ready to sleep. Be careful not to exercise less than three hours before bedtime, Stamm warns. It can raise your body’s core temperature and interfere with your sleep.
  4. Avoid caffeine in the evening. Caffeine can impact your sleep for up to twelve hours after you ingest it.
  5. Nighttime-friendly snacking. Some foods can encourage sleep. Stamm recommends tart cherry juice, which helps increase melatonin production, as well as whole grains or legumes that can create tryptophan, a precursor for melatonin.
  6. Try a ‘brain dump.’ At the end of the day, write down any remaining to-dos or things to consider so they don’t keep you up at night.
  7. Reserve your bed for sleeping and intimacy. Only using your bed for rest helps train your body and mind to recognize your bed as a place for sleeping – not reading, watching TV, scrolling social media or listening to podcasts.

“These are some of the ingredients for restful sleep, but everyone’s sleep sauce is different,” Stamm concludes. “Ultimately, it’s up to you to understand your unique needs and to develop a recipe that’s most helpful for you to get a good night’s sleep.”

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