“For Your Own Good”: A Restful Night’s Sleep Is Not an Option
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A New York Times bestseller

The first sleep book by a leading scientific expert—Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab—reveals his groundbreaking exploration of sleep, explaining how we can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better.

“For Your Own Good”: Why We NEED a Restful Night's Sleep
By Cheryl Harbour
Babyboomers.com Staff

This is the third in the babyboomers.com series on easy daily changes that can lengthen your life and ward off chronic diseases. Find out how important a good night's sleep is to your health. (To read the first ”For Your Own Good” article on offsetting the serious consequences of too much sitting, click here. To read the second "For Your Own Good" article about how much of certain beverages to drink to have a positive effect on your health, click here.)   

Some people take a good night’s sleep for granted. The rest of us toss and turn, look at the clock, stare at the ceiling, listen to our bedmate breathe (or maybe snore) and sometimes worry about things we can’t control.

We think we just have to live with getting too little sleep. But experts say getting too little sleep may actually shorten our lives. Research shows people who get less than 6 hours of sleep a night face serious risks, including having a 210% greater chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

Matthew Walker, neuroscientist and founder/director of UC Berkeley's Center for Human Sleep Science, says “Sleep has an image problem.”  It shouldn’t be considered an option or a luxury. It should be a priority, a necessity. One way or another, we need 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night. It’s not just about functioning well the next day, it’s about long term health.

When we’re asleep, our bodies and minds have a chance to re-charge and recalibrate. Our muscles and bones repair. Hormones we need to function are regulated. Our immune systems get a boost.

At Dr. Walker’s sleep and neuroimaging lab, they’ve found that sleep is especially important for cementing our memories. The part of the brain that’s responsible for deep sleep brain waves – essential for memory -- begins a progressive decline in our 30s and 40s. Eventually, brain waves that were perfectly synchronized aren’t anymore, so the “save” button isn’t being pushed for our new memories.  That could be linked to memory loss or even Alzheimer’s.

You’ve probably heard the advice about preparing for sleep and eliminating the factors that can disrupt your sleep. So we’ll just run through those as a checklist – and then we’ll give you a simple technique that works for many people.

  1. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed around the same time and wake up at the same time. That way your circadian rhythm (your natural sleep/wake cycle) works with you, not against you.
  2. Keep your bedroom dark and cool. Especially turn off or cover the blue lights that are emitted by electronic devices.
  3. If you wake up often to go to the bathroom, restrict the amount of fluids you drink for several hours before bedtime.
  4. Exercise during the day.
  5. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and big meals before bedtime.
  6. Develop a habit of doing something calm – reading, meditating, praying, listening to music, etc. -- as part of your bedtime routine.

Now for that special trick: It’s a breathing technique that is as old as time and is often taught in yoga classes and as a method of stress relief. It’s called 4-7-8 breathing.

  • Inhale while you count to four.
  • Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  • Exhale slowly while you count to eight.
  • Repeat while your body gets the message and you fall asleep.

It’s worth a try!

Maybe getting a good night’s sleep should be #1 on our list of New Year’s resolutions.

For more incentive to change your sleep ways and waves, watch this CBS interview with Dr. Walker, author of a new book Why We Sleep – Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.


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