In our busy lives, with numerous responsibilities vying for our time, we often cut back on sleep so we can have more waking hours to handle it all. While this might seem like a good solution, it often causes more problems than it solves. The average adult requires seven to eight hours of sleep each night. An occasional short night won’t necessarily derail your health, but chronic lack of restful sleep can be detrimental to your health and productivity.
Here’s why you shouldn’t scrimp on sleep and three tips to help you get a more restful night.
Sleep is the foundation of wellness
The quantity of your time asleep will affect the quality of your time awake. Over a third of our life should be spent sleeping, and this can feel like a waste of time. But it’s not! Cutting your sleep short by even an hour or two reduces the effectiveness of your immune system by about 25%, leading to more illness and disease. Lack of sleep also increases the release of hunger hormones that cause cravings for carbohydrates and sugars, making it more difficult to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight. Sleep also provides your body with time to recover and refresh.
Lack of sleep negatively affects our brain function and productivity
Sleep-deprived people cannot function at their highest ability. Sleep deprivation decreases your ability to remember and process information, which causes more mistakes and less progress. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep can give you up to a three-fold advantage in complex problem-solving.
Three Tips to Help You Sleep Better
1. Track your sleep. You may think you are getting enough sleep, but eight hours in bed does not necessarily mean a restful night of sleep. For the longest time, I thought something was wrong with me because I always felt so tired during the day. Then I started using my Fitbit to track my sleep. I realized that even when I was in bed for eight hours, I wasn’t getting eight hours of sleep — I was getting about six hours of sleep each night, on average. Now that I’m tracking my sleep, I make a conscious effort to not shortchange myself too many nights in a row. I don’t always achieve my eight-hour goal, but if I feel exhausted at the end of the week, I know why. And I can try to do better. An activity tracker, like Fitbit, is a great way to find out just how much sleep you are (or aren’t) actually getting.
2. Stick to a sleep-wake schedule. When you were a kid, your parents probably had a bedtime schedule for you. If you have kids, you probably set a bedtime schedule for them, especially when they were little. As adults, we often throw the whole sleep schedule idea out the window. But a sleep-wake schedule is important throughout life. Without one, even a full night’s sleep may leave you feeling exhausted. Here’s why: When you stick with the same sleep-wake schedule, your body’s internal clock (aka biological clock or circadian rhythm) is able to settle into a cycle that maximizes rest. When you constantly change your sleep and wake times by more than an hour, your body is never able to settle into its own internal rhythm for winding down and waking up. This inconsistent sleep-wake schedule can cause restless sleep as your body never enters the deep sleep stages.
If you find that you are getting seven to eight hours of sleep, but still feel irritable, drowsy, or experience brain fog causing concentration and memory problems, experiment to determine your body’s ideal sleep and wake times. Then set a sleep-wake schedule and stick to it, not altering more than one hour from your regular bedtime or wake time.
3. Create the right environment for sleep. While everyone has their own ideal environment for sleep, there are several factors everyone should consider when creating the right environment for sleep.
- Consider the temperature, which should be between 54- and 75-degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a 20-degree range, so experiment. Cooler temperatures tend to be better for sleeping because they mimic the body’s internal temperature drop during the night.
- Keep it dark in the room. Light is the strongest influencer on our circadian rhythm. Even small amounts of high illumination light at night can negatively affect our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Make sure your sleep surface — your mattress — is comfortable. You want your mattress to be sufficiently soft, yet supportive, and to provide you with enough room to move as you sleep.
- Use your sleep environment, especially your bed, only for sleep (and sex). Work and computers in the bedroom hinder quality sleep. Also, watching violent shows or news reports on TV near bedtime can agitate the brain and make it hard to fall asleep.
Now, go get a good night’s rest, and see how great you’ll feel tomorrow!
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