Mark T. Jansen, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield
Sleeping is something we all do and is a necessary part of our lives. Unfortunately, the negative health impacts brought on by lack of sleep are often overlooked. Due to many factors, people miss out on getting sufficient rest which can affect their daily lives immensely. In fact, almost half of all Americans say they feel sleepy during the day between three and seven days per week. On average, 35.2% of all adults in the U.S. report sleeping less than the recommended minimum of seven hours per night.
These figures are concerning because sleep plays an important role in your overall health. We can sleep better by understanding the factors that impact a good night’s sleep and what happens when it does.
Why is sleep so important?
Adequate sleep is important for a variety of reasons, including improved memory and immune system functions. According to experts, quality sleep is vital to both our physical and mental health. And sleep deprivation can have lasting effects.
Four key reasons you should prioritize a healthy sleep schedule:
- It’s good for your body: According to the CDC, adults who were short sleepers (less than 7 hours of sleep per 24-hour period) were more likely to report being obese and physically inactive.
- It’s good for your mind: Sleep helps brain function. After a good night’s sleep, we are more alert and clear-headed. Learning, problem-solving, and making decisions are easier. When we don’t get enough sleep, however, our brain’s performance deteriorates, and our reactions slow.
- It’s good for your emotions: Sleep helps us maintain emotional control. We can better control our emotions and behavior when we are well rested. Mood swings, tantrums or difficulty getting along with others can improve with better sleep.
- It’s good for your immune system: Sleep-deprived Individuals may have a difficult time fighting viruses such as colds, the flu, or COVID-19.
Prioritizing your sleep and eliminating the factors that negatively impact your rest is a great way to invest in your whole person health.
What can impact sleep?
Many things impact our sleep, disrupting the body’s natural rest cycle. And whether it’s for a short or long time, these things can add up and cause additional stress.
The factors that negatively impact sleep include:
- Irregular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can improve sleep.
- Mental health disorders. Depression and anxiety disorders are common in people who have insomnia. These can lead to racing thoughts at night or the inability to relax and sleep well.
- Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol. These beverages can interfere with one’s ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. And while many of us rely on caffeine-rich food products for a burst of energy, it’s important to consume them in moderation because they can cause withdrawal symptoms in some people. Some use an alcoholic drink to help them go to sleep (a “nightcap”), but we know that alcohol significantly reduces the restorative quality of sleep.
- Sleep disorders. Disorders like insomnia can cause difficulty in falling or staying asleep and lead to poor sleep quality. Frightening dreams and frequent wakeups, which can affect sleep quality, are among the nighttime symptoms of narcolepsy. Heavy snoring can signify a common condition known as obstructive sleep apnea. If you don’t feel rested during the day and know you snore, consider this condition as a possible problem, and get help from your health provider.
Properly addressing these factors can significantly improve your quality of life and have a positive impact on your health.
Tips for a better night’s sleep
Many of us lead busy lives, and it’s hard to get a regular good night’s rest. Try implementing small changes to help improve your sleep quality.
- Stick to a schedule. Maintaining a daily routine can help build better sleep habits.
- Get active during the day. According to Johns Hopkins, there is solid evidence that exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality. Some find that exercise shortly before bedtime can interfere with going to sleep. Try to get exercise earlier in the day.
- Unplug before bed. Exposure to the blue light of computers and mobile devices and the constant mental stimulation of online content can make it more difficult to fall asleep at bedtime.
By following these tips, you’ll set yourself up for a healthy, restful night of sleep.
How we’re supporting whole person health
By addressing all the factors contributing to an individual’s health, both physically and mentally, we’re better able to take care of our communities. Here at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we have implemented multiple programs and services to better support whole person health, including:
- Normalize the Conversation – We know that when dealing with emotional health issues, it can be difficult to ask for help. Through resources, support, and local partnerships, we’re working to eliminate stigma and normalize the conversation around mental health conditions. This is especially important because mental health can affect sleep health and vice versa.
- Blue and You Fitness Challenge – This three-month program is a fun way for companies to encourage their employees to increase their physical activity and was created after we recognized a need to encourage healthy behaviors in our communities. Better exercise contributes to better sleep.
- Blue 365 – Blue365 is a free health and wellness discount program available to Blue Cross and Blue Shield System members. It provides year-round discounts on gym memberships, fitness equipment, healthy eating options, and other goods. In combination with a healthy lifestyle, getting a good night’s sleep can improve your whole health, your whole life long.