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How to enhance your sleep hygiene

(Editor’s note: This is the last of a four-part series on the importance of sleep.)

Health Promotion at Hill Air Force Base offers a monthly class called Healthier Sleep Healthier You, and since virtually 30 percent of your life will be spent sleeping, I strongly recommend you come in and brush up on health sleep hygiene practices.

For some individuals poor sleep has to do with poor sleep hygiene and results in a condition called sleep deprivation. For others, poor sleep is the result of an actual sleep disorder and requires a more in-depth medical assessment.

During our sleep class the instructor discusses the components of effective sleep hygiene and can help you differentiate between sleep deprivation and signs of having insomnia. Very briefly, sleep Insomnia is when you have adequate time to sleep, but your ability to sleep is compromised.

It is a widespread issue and affects virtually everyone at least once throughout their lifetime. If you think you might have insomnia it is recommended that you contact a medical care or behavioral health provider.

Unlike the characteristics of insomnia, sleep deprivation is caused by a restricted opportunity to sleep due to lifestyle choices, also known as poor sleep hygiene, or shift work.

To help optimize your sleep, here are some very basic sleep guidelines:

1) Avoid caffeine or energy drinks 6-8 hours before bedtime;
2) Avoid nicotine before bedtime, as it is a stimulant resulting in effects similar to those found in caffeine;
3) Avoid alcohol after dinner as it will fragment your sleep and negatively impact your overall sleep quality, especially REM stages;
4) Get regular exercise daily, avoiding higher intensity workouts within 2 hours of bedtime;
5) Take a hot bath for 20 minutes before bedtime has been shown to promote sleepiness;
6) Find ways to keep your sleeping environment cool, dark, comfortable, quiet and relaxing;
7) If you must nap during the day, do so before 3 p.m. and make your nap no longer than 15-20 minutes; and
8) Keep a regular sleep pattern 7 days a week to keep your circadian rhythm consistent.

These topics and others are discussed during the Healthier Sleep Healthier You class.

When asked where I rate sleep on the pyramid of health, I’d place it on the bottom, the largest and arguably the most important element to health.

An entire book could be written about how insufficient sleep negatively impacts our health and longevity. Besides the ill-effects mentioned in previous parts of this sleep series, studies also show that poor sleep can result in 12 pounds of body fat gain in a year, a compromised immune system, and an increased prevalence of depression.

We need to move from the idea that sleep is a waste of time to accepting the fact that sleep is critical to our performance.

The goal of this article series was to help you recognize the importance of sleep and how it can enhance your cognitive abilities, problem solving and creativity skills, and concentration.

Your Hill AFB Health Promotion department offers Healthier Sleep, Healthier You classes on the fourth Tuesday of each month. In addition, our team is available to conduct flight- and squadron-level briefings on sleep and various other healthier lifestyle topics.

Call 777-1215 for additional information.