Let's paint a picture for you. Buried in warm covers, the air outside your bed seems to carry a chill, and some signal has disrupted your sleep- an alarm, a smell, light in your eyes. A clock tells you it's time for your day to begin. Maybe you hop right out of bed and into motion, beginning your morning routine without hesitation. Or perhaps your eyelids droop a bit, and the grogginess of the morning convinces you that you can still get to work on time if you hit the snooze button.
Whether you are a morning person or a night owl, this scenario is likely an all too familiar one. After all, sleep plays an important role in your day, but more often than not, the role it plays isn't quite as significant as it should be! Getting insufficient sleep has become increasingly commonplace due to a variety of factors ranging from uninterrupted access to technology to non-standard work hours to sleep disorders, like insomnia. In fact, between 50 and 70 million Americans struggle with sleep issues and disorders, and many more have generally unhealthy sleep patterns. Regardless of the reason for the lack of rest, sleep insufficiency is now recognized as a contributing factor to many health and lifestyle issues.
Unhealthy sleep patterns, sleep-related difficulties and generally insufficient sleep are linked to numerous issues that most people may not realize. We've put together a quick sleep guide to help you avoid becoming sleep deprived and stay healthy:
How much sleep do we actually need?
The amount of sleep you actually need varies from person to person, and changes over time as you age. In the early years, babies and toddlers need between 12 and 18 hours of sleep, and preschoolers require 11-13 hours. From childhood through the teenage years, most people need 9-10 hours of sleep each night. Adults need roughly 7-8 hours of sleep per night, but nearly 30% of U.S. adults report that they get less than 6 hours of sleep each night. As an adult, whether you are grumpy and unfocused or able to push through the sleepiness, fewer than 6 hours simply isn't enough for most people.
- What are the daily concerns if we don't get enough sleep?
- Difficulty maintaining focus and decreased attention span
- Challenges performing daily tasks
- Car crashes (due to dozing or distraction while driving)
- Occupational mistakes and industrial errors
- Unintentionally falling asleep
- Slower or compromised cognitive skills
What are the health issues caused by sleep insufficiency?
Chronic sleep loss can lead to irreversible damage and eventual loss of brain cells. In addition to insomnia, there are many sleep disorders that can have these detrimental effects, including sleep apnea (often indicated by snoring), narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome and shift-work sleep disorder, as well as sleep disturbances caused by other diseases and mental illnesses.
People deprived of sleep are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, including depression, obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Sleep insufficiency has also been linked to some cancers, increased mortality and generally reduced quality of life and productivity.
How can we maximize the sleep we get?
They call this "sleep hygiene" because it involves developing healthy sleep habits. Here is what you should know to improve your sleep:
- Go to bed at the same time each night
- Have a bedtime "ritual" you find relaxing
- Don't eat a large meal right before bed
- Avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol or nicotine just before sleep
- Exercise regularly; daily, if possible
- Make sure your sleep environment puts you at ease
- Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon
- Try not to use screens (phones, computers, tablets) just before bed, as they provide stimulation
Wellness is often described as a 3-legged stool, requiring a combination of nutrition, exercise and sleep to stay healthy. Sleep deprivation can cause substantial issues, so as you strive to exercise and eat well, keep track of how many hours of sleep you're actually logging and you may be surprised at the tweak you can make to feel healthier by morning!