I’ll admit it ~ I’m on a kick about sleep, sleep habits and making sure folks are getting enough of it. You can imagine my delight then when I heard my local public radio station announce they were starting a “Sleep Project” complete with an app to track sleep and download as well as regular segments on their various programs to talk about the issue! How cool is that? Thanks WNYC!

About six months ago this was also a topic but given the seriousness of the issue I felt it deserved another look. I will also be bringing you more information on the topic a bit more frequently because of its vital role our health and safety

You may recall that a few months ago a major commuter train, Metro-North, had its first fatal accident over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. The engineer driving the train that morning, William Rockefeller, turns out to have severe sleep apnea, which he was previously unaware of. With 4 people having lost their lives and over 70 people injured its safe to say it would have been better had Mr. Rockefeller known this vital information about his health prior to the accident. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us not enough sleep is a leading cause of motor vehicle and “machinery-related crashes” each year.

The CDC also tells us, “Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions—such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression—which threaten our nation’s health. Notably, insufficient sleep is associated with the onset of these diseases and also poses important implications for their management and outcome.” While it is certainly possible to Thrive with chronic diseases and conditions they sure do make it harder to do so!

In a piece entitled “Six Facts That Will Change the Way You Think About Sleep in New York” on WNYC comes this: “If you sleep fewer than seven hours per night, you get sick more. In fact, “you have three times the risk of contracting a cold compared with those who slept at least 8 hours per night,” according to Dr. Carl W. Bazil, director of the division of epilepsy and sleep at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. And generally, your immune system is way worse.”

There are four major categories of sleep disorders: sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, insomnia and narcolepsy. We’ll start to look at these issues in the months to come but for now let’s keep it simple ~ are you even getting enough sleep? Do you even know how much sleep you get?

Tracking your sleep either with a piece of paper and a pencil or with a fancy monitoring device such as a Fitbit, is a great place to start. Adults need between 7 and 8 hours a night according to both the CDC and the University of Penn’s sleep clinic. Teenagers need 9-10 hours a night and school aged children need at least 10 hours a night! Yes, you read that correctly. And, for the record, since teenagers don’t tend to get sleepy until later in the evening its physiologically harder for them to get up at the crack of dawn. Odd how our expectations are for them to get to school early in the morning given this reality…but that’s a discussion for another day too.

When tracking your sleep please don’t forget to record how much time you’re awake in the middle of the night. This includes time taken for a bathroom break, to get the dog off the bed or because you’ve woken up and get can’t back to sleep. Once you’ve tracked your sleep long enough to see your patterns you can begin to make some decisions about how or if to change things up; do you need to go to bed a bit earlier in the evening? Are you waking up consistently and does that require a medical assessment?

A good area to assess now is how you’re using your bed; beds are for bed purposes only and using them for ‘mission control’ as one of my clients calls it, is a disaster waiting to happen. “Bed purposes” means only engaging in sleep or sex. What’s that about? Our brains will quickly recognize when we use our beds as movie watching stations, argument zones, reading nooks etc and therefore not respond when you say, “OK, this is now bedtime” ~ and what would make it respond that way? In using your bed for other activities you’ve programmed your brain to think its, to paraphrase a famous advertisement, not just for sleep anymore.

So, let’s get started by tracking sleep, paying more attention to how you sleep and not using the bed as anything other than a bed. I would be willing to bet with a few more hours of sleep a week you’ll begin to notice a huge difference in your work, attitude and mood!

Sleep tight!