“I love sleep; it’s my favorite.” – Kanye West

Every morning, a couple of friends and I text each other just to affirm we’re still alive and well…at least breathing. These particular texts sometimes affirm what the AARP Bulletin reports: that folks are more likely to develop sleep issues as they age. Not that any of us are actually old, mind you. We’re just “in process.”

I absolutely agree with Kanye. I love sliding between the sheets at a reasonable nighttime hour and waking up when daylight begins to define my bedroom windows, and I realize I’ve slept soundly the whole night through. As opposed to awakening at 2, 3 or 4 am. Or worse, 11:30 pm. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen often.

At any rate, a good night’s sleep is important for everyone for a number of reasons, not the least of which is how you’ll feel the day after – pooped, grumpy and out of sorts. In the following paragraphs, I’ll discuss those reasons, in addition to a few causes of sleep deprivation, suggestions of actions you can take to help ease those tossin’ and turnin’ nights, and where to seek help should you need professional input.

Long-term effects of not getting enough sleep are real. Whether you experience a consistent lack of sleep or a reduced quality of shuteye, sleep deprivation can drain your mental functions and put your physical health at great risk. I’m not talking about the occasional “partied too hard and you’re too wired to go right to dreamland,” “stressful situation that’ll soon be resolved”, or a full-moon night. Mother Nature’s impulses can be strong. But getting less than the recommended seven-to-nine hours regularly can lead to serious health issues down the road.

Sleep is required for the body to operate at its best, as are food, water and air. This marvelous machine we’re walking around in has the opportunity to heal and restore chemical balance while it’s asleep. The brain needs its nightly r’n’r to spiff up memory retention – both short-and-long-term – and release neurotransmitters, messengers that control all of your body functions. A lack of sleep can affect your concentration, thinking capacities, creativity and problem-solving savvy. In reference to the word “grumpy” above, sleep deprivation can morph you into a moody, emotional, quick-to-anger, depressed, or anxious individual that no one wants to encounter.

Daytime drowsiness may increase your risk of accidents and injuries. Operating a vehicle when sleepy or fatigued is called “drowsy driving” and is – obviously – extremely dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers with this condition may cause up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year.

Years ago, I was chugging south in my yellow 1970 VW Squareback on I-91 in Vermont on a warm afternoon, having just consumed a large lunch. Though I felt a tad sleepy, I kept at a steady 60 mph for about 15 minutes until I nodded off. When I jerked awake, I was headed up an exit ramp. Had I been driving north instead of south, I’d likely have ended up rolling down an embankment into a river. Scared the fire out of me. I pulled off on a wide shoulder and napped for about 20 minutes before continuing my journey. Trust me, I was wide awake after that snooze.

Poor sleep can make you feel too tired to exercise, which can lead to weight gain. Lack of good zzz’s can also cause a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke; poor balance and coordination, and low sex drive.

Finally, the big one: sleeping too little at night can increase the risk of early death. I’m never quite sure what that term means, but I don’t want to experience it myself, thankyouverymuch!

If sleep occasionally evades you or you don’t fall asleep when you can’t seem to keep your date with the sandman, give some of these possible remedies a try:

  • Hit the hay at the same time every night and rise at the same time each morning.
  • Allow at least an hour of relaxing time pre-bed. Read, take a warm bath or shower, meditate.
  • Don’t consume caffeine past noon.
  • Allow at least two to three hours between your last meal and bedtime.
  • Get regular exercise, but not at night near bedtime.
  • Don’t use electronic devices just before bedtime. This includes TV. Sorry.
  • Here’s a tough one: Don’t keep electronic devices in your bedroom. You know, any item that reminds you it’s on by flashing red, blue, green or yellow lights.
  • Mahatma Ghandi offered the following advice, “Man should forget his anger before he lies down to sleep.” As did a dear Vermont friend named Marion back in the ‘70s, when I asked the secret of her 60-year marriage to her husband Buster. “We never go to bed angry,” she said, “though sometimes we’ve had to stay up all night to get things worked out.”
  • If your mind simply won’t shut up when your head hits the pillow, get up and write about whatever’s bugging it. Write and write and write until you get it all out. Then tear it up, throw it away and go to sleep.

Should the above DYI’s bring no relief, you may have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, and may need the help of a professional. You may consult your primary care physician, a sleep medicine specialist, a psychologist or psychiatrist, or any of a raft of complementary or alternative practitioners. Those practices can include yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture, Reiki, reflexology, Ayurveda, chiropractic, aromatherapy, and osteopathy. You get to decide what might work for you.

Whatever path you choose for help, keep a diary of your sleep habits for about 10 days prior to your visit. Include information about your bedtime, going-to-sleep time, waking up time, getting-out-of-bed time, naptime, exercise, and info on consumption of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. This will give the professional more insight into your sleep patterns so that you can make the journey back to a good night’s sleep.

Once you’re sawing those logs regularly, you may agree with this old Irish proverb: “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”

Sweet dreams.