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Must. Get. More. Sleep.

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Tweaking sleeping habits to maximize waking hours

By Mallory Bilger

I am not an exemplary figure when it comes to good sleeping habits. In the past, and even sometimes now, I sleep whenever I can. I also tend to be a night owl and a morning zombie, so the idea of early to bed and early to rise is one I am working to embrace, but I definitely have progress to make in that area.

Since the birth of my children — I have a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old — I have learned that I really do need to tweak my sleeping habits to maximize my rest time, so that I can maximize the hours I’m awake. My goal — note that I said goal, not my current practice — is to be up, dressed and ready before my family gets up so that I can be better prepared to assist them through the start of their day.

Recently I’ve been doing a bit of research through the Center for Disease Control and several medical studies have been released linking bad sleep habits to bad general health. Although that is not specifically new news, I’m not sure that I — or the rest of the population for that matter — have been getting the message.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the following is a list of suggested sleep hours, including naps, for newborns through adults:
Newborns 0-2 months: 12-18 hours
Infants 3-11 months: 14-15 hours
Toddlers 1-3 years: 12-14 hours
Preschoolers 3-5 years: 11-13 hours
School-aged children 5-10 years: 10-11 hours
Teenagers 10-17 years: 8.5-9.25 hours
Adults 18 and older: 7-9 hours

Did you pick up on that, folks? That’s seven to nine hours of sleep for adults, per night! Not every two days, not 10 hours one night and six hours the next.

I remember in college, my argument was that I just couldn’t afford to sleep that long because my schedule was too busy. I still find myself using that argument, but I have drawn the conclusion that not getting the proper amount of sleep just really isn’t an option for this busy wife, mother and journalist. I need the right amount of sleep so that I can’t just make it through the day, but so I can thrive during my awake hours.

But if making it through your days without having to tape your eyelids open isn’t a priority, perhaps your personal health is.

According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk of several chronic diseases that especially plague Kentuckians, such as Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression.
Aside from those very serious conditions, a lack of sleep can cause irritability and a general foggy feeling. Sleep deprivation can cause impaired driving, which is extremely dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving drowsy results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and more than 100,000 accidents each year.

Some agencies have equated drowsy driving with drunk driving, and I can definitely tell you that I have driven sleepy before and certainly did not equate it with drunk driving, so that really opened my eyes to its seriousness.

On the contrary, getting more than nine hours of sleep per night has also been linked to health problems such as dementia, so it’s important to have the right balance of sleep each night.

Although many people suffer from sleep disorders that require specific medical attention and/or medications, many of us who struggle with getting too little or too much sleep simply need to make some lifestyle changes to promote healthy habits.

The NSF provides the following recommendations to maximize the hours you do spend sleeping:

Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.

Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark and relaxing environment that is not too hot or too cold.

Make sure your bed is comfortable and use it only for sleeping. Do not read, watch television, or listen to music in bed. The NSF goes as far as recommending removing all electronic devices from the bedroom.
Physical activity can promote sleep, but try not to plan any intense physical activity within a few hours of bedtime.
Avoid large meals before bedtime.

I’ll be the first to admit that I violate four of the five of those recommendations. I have some big changes to make, but I have decided that I want to be more intentional about my sleep habits for my health and productivity.

I would encourage you to do the same.