Think about how much rest you got last night. What about the day before and the day before that? Chances are, it wasn’t that much. But how much do you actually need? For most of us, tracking our sleep is not very high on the list. However, getting sufficient sleep is a huge part of your health. Even if all the other parts of your health are in good working order (exercise, diet, psychological status, etc.) but you’re not getting enough rest, you can’t really call yourself “healthy.”
When we wake up might be relatively consistent but going to bed can be the real problem. Even if it is, the next question is when? Just going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time doesn’t mean you get enough healthy sleep. You’ve got to figure out when you need to go to bed to get enough rest.
What is enough sleep at your age?
The amount of rest your body needs changes throughout your lifetime. Infants get about 17 hours per day, not because they are lazy, but because they need that much. However, older adults only need about 7, typically. That being said, we’re all different too. There are some people that do fine with 4-6, while others are like zombies with any less than 8. Nonetheless, the CDC has provided some general guidelines for how much shut-eye folks need depending on their age:
Like I said, the above table is a generalization, but your personal needs may be a little different. The real issue is if you are getting adequate sleep for YOU. You might ask yourself a few questions to determine where you’re at.
- How much rest do you typically need to ‘feel rested’?
- Are you drowsy during the day?
- Is caffeine a must-have for you to make it through your day?
- Does your significant other notice you have problems sleeping?
Signs you’re not getting sufficient sleep
Especially as the stresses of life and work stack up, sleep deprivation can become an issue. However, sometimes it isn’t really your fault. Insomnia, sleep apnea, chronic pain, or other issues could be a more significant factor. In other words, if you are going to bed and waking up consistently, at times that should be giving you enough healthy sleep, but your still not rested, you might have one of these issues. You can pretty easily tell if sleep deprivation is a problem for you. Here are some common signs:
- Drowsiness throughout the day
- Greater irritability or ‘moodiness’
- Lower productivity and inability to focus
- Increase in appetite
- Judgement is reduced
- Dark circles under eyes
One study showed this quite well, finding that sleep deprived participants had double the place-keeping errors of their well-rested counterparts. They also had 3 times as many lapses in attention. It wasn’t just simple stuff, like attention either. Higher-order cognitive functions were directly affected too.1 It can even be dangerous to be short on rest. Alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation look curiously similar behind the wheel.2
What sleep specifically does, biologically
I keep saying “sleep good,” “lack of sleep bad,” but why? Those are pretty general statements but there are many specific reasons that “sleep good.” Here are a few:
- Hormone regulation. The amount of sleep you get determines the release of hormones, biological signaling molecules that literally tell your cells what to do.3 This includes hormones that control appetite, metabolism, growth and healing.
- Getting enough rest makes you smarter. When you get sufficient sleep, your brain simply functions better.4 You can concentrate better, your focus is improved, and you are more productive.
- Getting enough sleep reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke.5 That alone is reason to get your 8 hours every night.
- Adequate rest helps you lose weight.6 As mentioned in the first bullet point, the amount of rest you get affects hormones. Some of those hormones are involved in weight regulation and metabolism and if you aren’t sleeping enough, it is easier to gain weight.
- When you get sufficient sleep, your immune system works better.7 That means your body is better able to fight or avoid illness.
- Those that get enough rest are at a lower risk of disease, including diabetes and high blood pressure, than those that have poor sleep habits.8,9 By the way, these kill people all the time!
- Are you an athlete? You perform better when well-rested because you have better reaction time and speed.10
- Depression is less likely for sleepers. Thus, improve your sleep and mental health at the same time.11
Some sleep solutions
- Don’t exercise within a few hours of bedtime. If your body is too ‘pumped up,’ you won’t be able to sleep.
- Get plenty of sunlight when possible. This helps establish your circadian rhythm
- Don’t take long naps. Short ones may be OK, but if you sleep during the day, you may not need to at bedtime.
- Wake up every day at about the same time. Yep, weekends too.
Just before bedtime
- Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine or use tobacco. All of these can mess up your sleep, so better to avoid them.
- Don’t do screens at least ½ hour before bed. You brain is stimulated by the light and may keep you up.
- Find a bedtime routine. Maybe it is listening to calming music while you take a shower.
- Dim the lights or turn them off. If things are darker, it will help your brain understand it is time for sleep.
- Make it cooler. About 65o is an ideal sleeping temperature.
When in bed
- No screens. Again, the light stimulates your brain, and it wants to be awake.
- Read or listen to white noise (or both). Either of these activities helps you relax.
- Relax and focus on your breathing. If you are thinking about something simple, like breathing, your conscious brain can turn off.
In short, if you want to be healthy, you’ve gotta get sufficient sleep. That means pretty close to ALL the time. Nothing can make up for lack of sleep. Not exercise, not diet and not psychological connection with the universe. Consider some natural supplements to help you get the slumber you need too. Drugs help, but they are still drugs and all drugs have side-effects. So, better to try natural first. That being said, no supplement or drug will make up for poor choices.