Thanks to the Internet and social media, we live in a world where we expect instant gratification at every turn. We expect immediate replies to our texts, we share our photos within seconds of taking them and ordinary people become overnight sensations without the help of writers, producers or publicists simply by posting videos on YouTube.
Technology has set the bar so high that many have come to expect this sense of immediate gratification in their approach to exercise and nutrition, too. Self quantifiers like Jawbone and Lark track our activity, diet and sleep 24/7, and books like the 21-Day Tummy and The Pound a Day Diet top Amazon's best-sellers list.
Many New Year's resolutions revolve around diet and exercise. And at the start of each year, morning show segments with titles like "new year, new you" abound. Usually these segments focus on ways to burn fat, blast away bloat and boost energy. Following a month of holiday celebrations filled with too much eating and drinking, who isn't up for that?
Despite the fact that sleep, along with diet and exercise, is one of the three pillars of health, improving the quality and quantity of sleep doesn't tend to be a classic New Year's resolution. Why are adults vigilant about their children's sleep and often indifferent to their own?
Psychotherapist and relationship expert Nyiri Grigorian believes that many of us view sleep as intangible and, unlike diet and exercise, consider it to be mysterious and out of our control. She explains that we have a greater tendency to feel helpless with respect to things we consider internal. According to Dr. Grigorian, the consequences of sleep deprivation are profound. She explains that it can lead to depression, interfere with cognition and impact our interpersonal relationships. In addition, Dr. Grigorian believes that sleep is healing to our intrapsychic life because it gives us time to dream and work out our conflicts.
Are the benefits of a good night's sleep immediate?
According to Dr. Daniel Barone, a physician at the Weill Cornell Medical College for Sleep Medicine, your body repairs itself while you sleep. If you've had a good night's sleep, you almost can't help but feel energized, excited and healthy in general. Most of us think we look better after a good night's sleep, too.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (and your problems are not the result of sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or another medical condition), Dr. Barone believes that making small modifications to your sleep hygiene will yield benefits fairly quickly. According to Dr. Barone, the simplest and perhaps the most meaningful modification is "shutting down" at least 30 to 60 minutes before bed. This means stop using all devices that emit blue light, such as television, computers and smartphones. The light disrupts your circadian rhythms and makes it harder for you to get a good night's sleep. Dr. Barone suggests that people place their smartphone far enough away from the bed so it cannot easily be reached. By doing so, you are less likely to be disturbed by the phone just prior to falling asleep or in the middle of the night.
Dr. Barone explains that poor sleep at night can lead to people craving snacks and high-calorie foods during the day and in turn bring about weight gain. So if you're having trouble sticking to that diet you just started, a poor night's sleep may to blame. Dr. Barone stresses the importance of practicing good sleep hygiene regularly, including keeping the same sleep and wake times and using the bed for sleep and intimacy only.
So if you've already bailed on your New Year's resolution, don't be discouraged. The year is still young. Make "a good night's sleep" your resolution for 2014. You can get started tonight.
Co-founder, Bedtime Network