There are many things that contribute to good health. Some are remarkably simple. Eat properly and maintain a healthy weight. Stay hydrated. Exercise and remain active in order to keep up cardiovascular fitness and muscle mass. These are inexpensive and low risk compared with medications and surgery.
However, there’s another thing that’s proving more important than we realized. And it’s plain old sleep. Sleep is critical to our health, both physical and emotional. I can speak to this with some authority. In America, the way we educate physicians, and the way we practice medicine, leads to significant amounts of sleep loss for doctors.
It was always a kind of “rite of passage.” And yet, for years we all wondered why we felt so terrible. We have a pretty good idea now; it’s because our bodies are designed for sleep. Lack of sleep is associated with numerous health risks, from poor wound healing to falling asleep behind the wheel to physicians making bad decisions from fatigue.
When we feel fatigued, when we have frequent colds, when diabetes is poorly controlled or blood pressure high, is sleep a consideration? When anxiety or depression escalate, do we ask ourselves if exhaustion could be the source? All too often, our first impulse, as physicians and patients, is to start a new medication or alter an old one. (Or to up the caffeine and press on.) Yet, it could well be that the thing we need most is good, solid, deep, uninterrupted sleep.
Unfortunately, we live in a 24/7 society. The street lights never go off. Many people besides health care workers have jobs that require them to be up all night, or to rotate shifts. In addition, many have struggled with sleep apnea, which results in a host of side effects, including heart disease.
We also are adversely affected by screens and devices. We text and email and check social media, day and night. The television is on, or Netflix is playing until the wee hours. The light from the screens stimulates our brains to be awake.
Sleep is not only one of the most obvious, but also one of the most powerful things we can do to improve our overall health. If you feel sleep is a problem, please talk with your physician. Turn off your phone, turn off the screens, cut back the caffeine and try to drift off to sleep as God intended.
You’ll be surprised at how good you’ll feel!