February Behavioral Health Column

VPPPA has partnered with the experts at MindWise Innovations to present a monthly article addressing issues and questions that members might be hesitant to ask about. These columns will address your concerns about mental health, substance abuse, brain injuries, family issues, and more. 

By: Lisa Desai, MindWise Innovations ​

Got iSleep and Safety: The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep, or lack of sleep, has a big effect on our physical and mental health. Studies have shown that sleep is connected to eating habits and weight, stress management, mood, irritability, and concentration. Restful sleep allows the body and mind to reset and recharge for the next day.

How is sleep related to safety on the job?

Reports by organizations such as the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies reports that people who experience problems sleeping or don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk for accidents on the job which include operating machinery and decision-making. A good night’s sleep helps our brain focus; when we are deprived of sleep it is harder to problem-solve and recognize warning signs which might prevent an accident.

Poor sleep can also slow our reaction times in dangerous situations. In fact, workers who are highly fatigued are 70% more likely to be involved in an accident. While many people have been working remotely during COVID, when commuting is included in accident rates the impact is dramatic. One study found that 20% of all serious car crash injuries are associated with drivers who are sleepy or fell asleep at the wheel.

Given the serious consequences of insomnia – a pattern of poor or insufficient sleep – it’s clear that finding ways to sleep better needs to be a health priority. Sleep hygiene can help.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene refers to a routine before bed which helps you wind down from the day and make a clear distinction between ‘working’ hours and ‘preparing for bed’. For effective sleep hygiene, it’s important to be as consistent as possible in your routine.

  • Make sleep a priority – determine how much sleep is optimal for you; it can vary for people but the recommended amount of sleep per night is typically 7-9 hours. You might pay attention to mornings when you feel well rested since that will give you an idea of your own optimal sleeping needs. Then, arrange your nighttime schedule to ensure that you are hitting the sack in time to get your full amount of shut eye.
  • Be consistent with wake-up/bedtime– it’s hard in our busy schedules to eat, sleep, and relax according to schedule. Research shows keeping regular hours for waking up as well as bedtime helps with restful, uninterrupted sleep. While it’s okay to sleep in on the weekend, be careful of dramatic changes so that it’s easier to return to your usual routine on the weekdays.
  • Turn off electronics for at least 30 mins to one hour before going to bed. That means no screen time on your phone, computer, etc. I know… we hear this a lot and it’s hard because we are used to reading and doing everyone on our phones! Try listening to music, looking through a magazine, or talking with someone for a bit as a way to unplug before bed.
  • Engage in a wind down activity that you find soothing…it might be reading, taking a shower or a bath, or stretching exercises. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon since for many people it is too stimulating.
  • Write down your worries. If you are having trouble relaxing before bed due to worries or concerns about the next day, write them down in a notebook. Even a bullet list is okay. Studies found that writing about how we feel, or our worries, can have a positive effect over time.
  • Cut down on long naps – a 15–20-minute power nap can be great, but 1–2-hour naps can interfere with sound sleep at night.
  • Make your bedroom inviting – try to make your sleeping space as calming as possible; dim the lights, use soothing scents (lavender is a great one for sleep), and whether it’s a small or big room, make it pleasant and neat enough so that it feels relaxing.