Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Keeping track of lost snooze-time

As regular readers of the Anti-Cancer Challenge know, I am planning to get more, and better-quality, sleep during the next year (and beyond, hopefully).

I have been feeling decidedly groggy these last few months due to working late, or tossing and turning in bed because I hadn't given myself time to wind down before bedtime. And upon researching the subject of sleep I have become increasingly aware that that insufficient or disrupted sleep may increase our risk of disease: not only cancer (see this recent post), but also diabetes, heart disease, a weakened immune system, inflammation and weight gain.

Fatigue can even kill: driving while tired has similar effects to being drunk at the wheel. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that one in every five serious motor vehicle injuries is related to driver fatigue, with 80,000 drivers falling asleep behind the wheel every day and 250,000 accidents every year related to sleep. 

Not surprisingly, sleep is also vital for our emotional well-being; conversely, sleep deprivation is thought to increase the risk of depression, stress and anxiety and exacerbate pre-existing mental illness. I certainly have noticed that I relate more easily and joyfully with the people around me when I have slept enough: I am less easily irritated, more patient and altogether more positively inclined toward my fellow-beings.

However, in our fast-paced world it is often hard to get sufficient sleep. Some of us work late into the night (that would include me), others while away the hours surfing the internet to shop, book holidays or catch up on their reading (ditto), and others again seek entertainment from movies or video games which are so stimulating they then find it hard to wind down and get to sleep.

However, many of us are not aware that we're not getting enough sleep. We think being tired and craving coffee and starchy foods - especially in the afternoon - is a normal fact of modern life. And those of us who do realize we should sleep more often don't know where and how to carve out the extra snooze-time.

In order to chart my sleep behavior and find out where I can make improvements, I have designed a weekly Sleep Journal. Those of you joining me on the Anti-Cancer Challenge and seeking to improve your sleep can print it off here

You may think I am obsessed with charting. Admittedly, the Sleep Journal comes hard on the heels of the Fitness Diary and heralds the advent of - you guessed it! - the Food Log!  In the arena of weight-loss, however, journaling has been shown to be effective in helping people shed pounds, and so I have decided to apply the same logic to sleep-loss, or rather, gain!

Before we can change our behavior, we need to know first of all what exactly our behavior is! Once we understand where and why we waste precious sleep time (maybe it's not always as important as it seemed at the time?) and discover what our optimal sleep duration is (some of us need more than others), we can leave the journal behind. But for the next few weeks, this document will be my faithful companion!

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