Let's talk about sleep. You need it. I need it. We all need it. We're not machines, even though the daily demands of school, work, and relationships may often suggest otherwise. A gallup poll from 2013 found that at least 40% of Americans receive less than 7 hours of sleep, the minimum amount suggested by the American Psychological Association and the National Sleep Foundation. Countless studies have shown that less sleep has associations with negative performance, medical, and even psychological outcomes. But why is sleep so important?
Getting proper sleep can play a monumental role in your physical health - from lowering your risk of all sorts of heart complications to lessening the chance of obesity. Your immune system relies heavily on sleep so that you can combat common diseases. It affects your hormone levels and your body's reaction to hormones being released and balanced.
While you are sleeping, you brain is also repairing and preparing for the next day of activities. With a lack of sleep, you may struggle with making effective decisions and engaging in problem solving behaviors and creativity. Sleep depravity has also been linked to attention issues, depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviors.
Children and adolescents especially need sufficient sleep because it supports healthy growth and development. It's such a concern that medical professionals and psychologists have historically called for the school day to start later. I can professionally attest to this being a school counselor, as the first thing I notice with students that struggle personally and academically are their very poor sleeping habits.
So how much sleep is enough?
According to the National Institute of Health, most healthy adults (18 and older) require between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Adolescents (12-18) need between 8.5 and 10 hours of sleep. A recent study from the University of California discovered that some may have a gene that enables them to function ideally with six hours of sleep at night; however, that gene is very rare - less than 3% of the population.
So how do we get back on track with better sleeping habits? Here are a few tips:
- Diet - Try to limit your caffeine intake and quit any sort of caffeine a few hours before bed time. Eating large meals before trying to goto bed can also affect your sleep negatively since you have to still digest, so try to have dinner a little earlier to avoid these problems. Having a few alcoholic beverages to help you get drowsy for bed isn't a good idea either, as alcohol can actually dehydrate you and affect your REM. It's not just about the amount of time being asleep, but also the quality.
- Disconnect - Put all the technology away at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. The more stimulated you are, the longer it will take to coax your mind to a low enough level to fall asleep. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb and set it aside. This may sound like a crazy idea - but taking your television out of your bedroom may help reduce the temptation of that "one more Netflix episode" you want to catch.
- Exercise - Physical activity has exceptional benefits to your overall well-being, including sleep. Give your body a reason to need that extra half-hour of sleep.
- Routine - I cannot stress this enough. Turning behaviors into habit and, eventually, into a routine is essential. Our bodies and minds function and perform well with consistency. Be creative and put together a routine that sets yourself up for proper sleep.
- Bedding - Have an old, decrepit mattress a few extra bucks lying around? It might be a good time to financially invest in your sleep. If your body does not feel comfortable and supported in a position for several hours throughout the night, it can easily disrupt the amount of REM sleep you receive. Supportive neck pillows and memory foam mattress covers can do wonders!
- Talk to your doctor. Sleeping disorders are pervasive and could take therapy to resolve, but you may benefit from seeing your primary care physician to rule out any medical components associated with your lack of sleep.
Here are a few websites and sources that are great for looking further into bettering your sleep:
Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success
Any further suggestions or questions? Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think.