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Healthy Habits: Prioritizing Sleep

Prioritizing Sleep in 2015 and Beyond

It’s that time of year again … the time when we make a promise to ourselves that we’ll finally hit the gym, lose weight, or spend more time with friends and family.

Perhaps I’m biased, but it is always surprising to me that “improving sleep” does not show up on more New Year’s resolution lists. Sleep, along with exercise and diet, are part of the three “pillars of health.”

Moreover, improving your sleep may help you to reach your other goals – eating better, exercising more and/or losing weight. This is because studies have found that losing sleep is associated with increased appetite (particularly for junk food!), feelings of fatigue (it’s hard to exercise when you’re tired) and unhealthy dietary choices (such as hitting the drive thru for dinner).

Make Good Sleep Habits Part of Your 2015 Routine

The challenge to any health-related New Year’s Resolution is that making big changes in our behavior is difficult. Habits are hard to break. It’s hard to avoid all sweets every single day or to exercise 30 minutes more every single day.

It may also be hard to sleep 1-2 hours more every single day. These big changes can be overwhelming, so much so that many people may just give up. I certainly have (let’s not count up the amount of money wasted on gym membership fees.)

One strategy may be to set these lofty goals and every day attempt to reach them, but if we fall short, we applaud ourselves for what we did manage to do, and not criticize ourselves for not reaching the goal.

So if our lofty goal is an hour and a half more sleep per night than what you were getting in 2014, but on some busy days you only manage 30 minutes, then great! That’s still 30 minutes more.

Healthy Habits – Getting Started is Simple

When it comes to improving sleep, another challenge for some people may be not knowing what to do or where to start. Fortunately, we can help with that. You can always follow our sleep tips, which offer easy ways you can improve your bedroom environment, develop sleep-friendly habits and avoid sleep-damaging ones.

You might begin by keeping simple sleep diary – recording when you go to bed and when you get up. This will give you an idea of your current habits and where you may be able to improve. If you still feel you sleep poorly, even after adopting all of these strategies, you should bring this issue up with your doctor.

Don’t wait for her/him to ask you about your sleep. If it’s bothering you, then your doctor should hear about it. And if your question happens at 3:00a.m.? Well, Sleep.org is open 24/7.

Making these changes to your sleep habits can not only improve your sleep, but could also improve the sleep habits of your entire family, especially if you developing sleep-friendly habits together.

In the 2014 Sleep in American Poll, we found that parents who had poor sleep habits (such as checking email or texting after they fell asleep) were more likely to have kids who did the same. We also found that having a busy schedule was the most common reason for sleep problems in the family. Making these big changes is not going to be easy because life does sometimes get in the way.

I have a toddler myself so I know myself how hard it can be sometimes to get a good night’s sleep when you have children of any age. Still, setting these goals could be worth the effort in the long run.

Acknowledging the importance of sleep for health and learning different ways to improve sleep make good New Year’s Resolutions.

I wish you all a Happy New Year! Sleep well!

Kristen Knutson

Kristen Knutson, PhD is a biomedical anthropologist who is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and a member of the Sleep, Metabolism and Health Center (sleep.uchicago.edu) at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on sleep and the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Specifically, she is interested in understanding how day-to-day sleep patterns, including how much someone sleeps, how well he/she sleeps and when he/she sleeps, are associated with health and disease. Her research is also examining whether these sleep patterns partly explain the well-known racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She sleeps 8 hours per night, when her toddler allows.

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