Importance of a good night’s sleep

If “happy and healthy” are words in your New Year’s Resolutions, then sleep should be a top priority to reach your goals in 2013.

Lack of sleep takes a toll on your body and overall health, reports Deborah Pedrick, sleep expert and founder of the Family Sleep Institute at Stamford, Conn.

Research shows that chronic lack of sleep is linked to colds and flu, diabetes, heart disease, mental health, and even obesity.

“Healthy sleep increases our growth hormone production that is essential for our daily vitality,” adds Patty Tucker, sleep coach and Family Sleep Institute faculty member.

“It also improves our ability to fight off infection and recover from some forms of cancer,” Tucker said in a statement. “A good night’s sleep increases our ability to learn, remember and focus. Poor sleep increases our risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, depression as well as work accidents and car crashes. With all these benefits who wouldn’t want a little more restful sleep?”

Below, Pedrick offers some tips to help us get a good night’s rest in 2013 which in turn will help us reach our goals.

– Set aside time at the end of the day to have a consistent bedtime routine which is calming, positive, and nurturing for the whole family (reading books, talking about the day, etc). Have well defined steps, a starting point and an ending point. This is not only a cue to your child to prepare him for sleep, but also a way for parents to stay in control and complete the task, which in turn creates a familiar and secure sleep environment for the child. Introducing a light dimmer which decreases the light in the room over a period of time during the bedtime routine also helps the body cue into sleep, relax, and aid in the production of melatonin.

– Sleep environment: Make sure that your child’s sleep environment is safe and follows the American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines. Keep temperature on the cooler side, 68 degrees, cooler is better. Sleep in complete darkness and block out all natural light.

– Respect your children’s need for sleep during the day and try to work daily activities around that need. Naps restore our children mentally as well as physically. Skipping naps is like skipping meals.

Experts say every child needs a slightly different amount of sleep. In general, these are the amounts of sleep children require, by age:

Ages 1-3: 12-14 hours of sleep per day.

Ages 3-6: 10-12 hours of sleep per day.

Ages 7-12: 10-11 hours of sleep per day.

If your child regularly has difficulty falling asleep or wakes up repeatedly throughout the night, it might be a sign of a sleep problem. To know for sure, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. The doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist.

Additionally, the National Institutes of Health estimates that 13-20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from excessive sleepiness.

“Excessive sleepiness is common, debilitating and often misunderstood,” says David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation.

The National Sleep Foundation also lists some tips to help people get enough sleep.

– Power down an hour before bed: Nearly all Americans – as many as 95 percent, in fact – use some tech gadget in the hour before bed at least a couple of nights a week, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep In America poll. But the blue light emitted from TV, laptop, tablet and smartphone screens disrupts the brain’s natural melatonin production and can trigger alertness, keeping you awake later.

– Leave the cell phone outside the bedroom: Half of Americans sleep next to their cell phones. More than 80 percent of 18-24 year olds are guilty of this sleep no-no. Not only is the blue light emitted a problem, but middle-of-the-night texts and emails can disrupt your sleep as well. If you must keep it nearby, turn it to a mode that allows only emergency calls to wake you.

– Commit to at least 7 hours: It’s true that there’s no magic number of hours of sleep that every adult must get, but in general, most people require about seven to nine hours to feel and function their best. Risk for a number of the serious consequences of short sleep, like heart problems and obesity, increases dramatically when people get fewer than six hours a night.

– Consider what (and when) you eat and drink: If you rely too heavily on that 4:30 p.m. cup of coffee or that glass of wine before bed, consider committing to healthier eating and drinking habits. Experts recommend ditching caffeine six to eight hours before bed to make sure it’s out of your system by lights out time. Alcohol, while it can help lull you to sleep, is only disruptive later on in the night.

– Stop badmouthing sleep: When’s the last time you heard someone brag about cutting a night short in order to hit the hay? It’s much more likely you’ve heard something along the lines of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” But short sleep isn’t a sign of bravery or competence or toughness. In fact, sayings like this send messages about sleep that all too often paint a negative picture of good rest.

– If you really can’t sleep, get up: Getting out of bed may be the last thing you feel like doing when counting sheep just won’t work, but it can actually help you fall back to sleep faster – and reduce the stress of staring at the clock. After 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed, sit in another part of the house until you feel a little groggy, then go back to sleep.

– Talk to a doctor: If you’ve been told you snore, or you constantly feel tired or can fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow, and no home remedies seem to help, commit to getting expert help in 2013.