The world needs sleep. We spend a third or more of our lives sleeping and for good reason. It’s how our bodies recharge themselves and prepare for another day. After hours of activity and wakefulness our energy levels slowly become depleted and that bed starts looking real comfy. But if it’s so important, why is it that so many people don’t get enough sleep? Let’s start with a little base knowledge.
How much sleep do you need?
Sleep needs vary largely on the person but the average adult requires 7-8 hours of sleep at night to feel well rested. During this time our bodies experience multiple sleep cycles, each lasting approximately an hour and a half. Some people will say that you need less sleep the older you get but there is no evidence to support this. In fact there is probably a reason for that.
What affects sleep quality?
There are a huge amount of external factors that affect how well you sleep at night. Factors such as loud noises or aches and pains which can disrupt the cycles which is a common problem for elderly people, but there are more common things like what you put into your own body. Caffeine and sugar are perfect examples of this. Where you sleep and who you sleep with can have major effects as well. For example, if you’re sleeping in a hotel for the first time, it’s new it’s not home, there’s a new bed and different pillows. You’re not used to it so it negatively affects the quality of your sleep. The there’s something that everyone is exposed to because of new technology. Exposure to light is one of the largest factors I’ve come across. Your body has it’s own internal clock that tells you to wake up when it’s light out and go to bed when it gets dark out. With the invention of artificial light, we are now exposed to light much later into the day than we would have been in the past and it has altered our internal clock. It makes it harder for us to fall asleep at night because our eyes interpret it as daytime and we shift our preferred time of sleep to later in the day. All of these things can cause sleep deprivation which can cause even more problems.
Effects of sleep deprivation.
Cognitively it can affect you a lot. It makes you sluggish and tired. You’re ability to concentrate and learn new things is interfered with, your ability to form new short and long-term memories is negatively affected, it impairs your ability to make decisions, and it can make you more irritable which negatively affects your mood. It affects your bodies ability to fight off infection. Your body doesn’t have the same amount of resources built up to fight off illness when it’s sleep deprived and it increases your risk of developing diseases as well due to your bodies decreased ability to fend them off. But the most important aspect to me is your body repairs itself while you sleep. It fights infections, it repairs damaged cells, it heals cuts and bruises, it prepares itself for the next day. If you cut your sleep short then all of these happened at a diminished level which can only hurt you in the long run. Some examples are high blood pressure, risk of heart disease and stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. We don’t want any of that.
So what can we do to improve the quality of our sleep?
Set yourself a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. You’re body gets used to that schedule and adjusts your sleep accordingly. It will help you fall asleep faster and feel more rested when you wake up. Watch what you eat. Don’t go to bed feeling full, or feeling hungry, otherwise your mind will be too focused on other things to sleep. An active mind is an awake mind. Stay away from the screens before bed. Having a strong concentration of light in your eyes makes trying to fall asleep very difficult. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best but any exercise will do. It helps you burn up any excess energy you have and makes you tired, plus it’s a healthy activity that will boost your quality of life. Give yourself some time to wind down. Read a book or form a nightly ritual you do every night before bed. Having the ritual will help in telling your body that it’s time for bed.
Sleep is so important in so many ways but we never seem to get enough. We have to wake up for work and school, or we have other important things that we need or want to do instead of sleep. We see it as an irritation that gets in the way of things we want to do because our time is important to us. But if you neglect your sleep then you are damaging the quality of your time that you actually get. Don’t neglect it. It’s important. You want to be the best functioning you all the time and if you’re not getting enough sleep then that’s not happening. How will you get through that job interview if your brain is foggy? How will you do well on that test if your ability to learn and memorize is compromised? Think about it.
Get some sleep!