Do you ever have a hard time shaking that morning fog after you wake up? Does that first cup of coffee just not hit like it used to? If you answered yes to either of these questions, chances are you aren’t getting enough sleep each night! But how much sleep should we really be getting in the first place? Check out this handy chart to see how many hours of Zzzs you should be trying to catch every evening (1):
Getting enough quality sleep is just as essential for our survival as regularly consuming food and water and it affects almost every tissue and system in the body. While you sleep, your brain is at work removing toxins that have built up while you were awake, and your body repairs damaged or worn tissues like your muscles after a hard day at the gym. Research also shows that getting adequate amounts of sleep reduces one’s risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression, and improves memory and cognition (1,2).
For many people, as their lives get busier sleep tends to be the first thing that they cut out to make room for other activities. If a person begins to regularly fall short on the amount of sleep that they get, it quickly adds up. This is known as a “sleep debt” (1). For example, if you miss out on 2 hours of sleep a night, by the end of the week you’ll have a sleep debt of 14 hours. While many people try to recover from this debt by taking naps or sleeping in on their days off, research shows that this is not actually effective. In one study, participants with restricted sleep during the week and more sleep on the weekend saw decreased insulin sensitivity and weight gain, both of which are contributors to Type 2 Diabetes (3). Instead, researchers say, you should try to get adequate sleep on a nightly basis (or daily basis, if you work nights). We all know that this can be a struggle sometimes, so if you have trouble getting enough sleep, try some of these tips:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day! Having a consistent sleep schedule is important for maintaining your body’s internal clock. Try not to differ your sleep patterns on the weekend by more than an hour from your usual schedule.
- Set aside an hour or so before bed for quiet time! Avoid exercising and bright artificial light before bed, as your body needs time to relax before sleeping and bright lights can disrupt your body’s natural clock by delaying the release of the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter, melatonin.
- Avoid alcohol before bed! Alcohol alters the duration of the different cycles of sleep and makes them less consistent through the night, causing you to have more restless sleep and reducing the normal benefits of sleep (4).
- Avoid nicotine and caffeine before bed! Both substances are stimulants and have been known to interfere with sleep. The effects of caffeine can last for up to 8 hours, so even a cup in the afternoon can affect your sleep!
- Spend time outside being physically active! A little extra Vitamin D never hurt anybody and wearing yourself out will make it easier for you to fall asleep.
- Keep your room quiet, cool, and dark! Your temperature naturally decreases with rest, so having a cool room helps you reduce your temperature and fall asleep faster.
- For people who work night shifts: some helpful tips for getting more sleep in addition to these others are keeping the lights bright at work to trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, use light-blocking curtains when you sleep to trick your brain into producing sleep-inducing hormones and limit your caffeine intake to the beginning of your shift.
With the biological need for sleep just now being understood by researchers and medical professionals, we now know it is a necessity for our health and proper function. So, take these tips, optimize your sleep, and kick that morning mental grog for good!