Sleep. That sweet thing that poets and philosophers have waxed lyrical about for centuries. “Sleep is the best meditation,” said the Dalai Lama. “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything,” goes the Irish proverb. And Ernest Hemingway once wisecracked, “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” Jokes and quotes aside, sleep is possibly the most crucial requirement of the human body and we’re not getting enough of it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, not getting sufficient sleep is quite literally a “public health problem.”1 Believe it or not, sleep is even more critical to our health and survival than food! It takes 14 days for an average human to starve to death and only 10 days to die from sleep deprivation.2
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
It depends. The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person and usually changes with age too. As per the National Institutes of Health, school-aged kids should be getting about 10 hours sleep per day, teenagers about 9 hours, and adults about 7-8 hours. How much are we actually getting? As many as 30% of adults report getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep and about 30% of high school students are getting only about 8 hours a night.3
The 2014 Sleep Health Index conducted the by National Sleep Foundation found that most Americans sleep for about 7 hours and 36 minutes per night. On workdays, the average bedtime was close to 11 PM and wake up time was 6.38AM. Most people reported sleeping about 40 minutes longer on the weekends and only 35% said that the quality of their sleep was “good.”4 Clearly, people are simply not sleeping as much or as well as they should. And this is a problem.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Sleep is critical for our overall health and wellbeing because it is during sleep that our bodies repair and restore themselves. Think of it as your body’s very own R&R! Sleep deprivation can cause the following:
1. Your Brain Doesn’t Get Time To Recharge
It’s not just your phone that needs charging overnight; your brain needs it too. Good sleep helps your brain prepare you for the next day by forging new neural pathways that will help you learn, retain, and use new information. Sleep also enables you to think more clearly, solve problems, think creatively, make decisions, and of course, focus, and concentrate.5 Deprive yourself of snooze time and your brain has to bear the brunt.
2. Your Emotional Well-being Takes A Hit
You don’t need studies to tell you that poor sleep or lack of sleep makes you cranky, irritable, quickly angered, impulsive, and moody. In addition, poor sleep has also been linked with suicidal tendencies, depression, lack of attention, and risk-taking behaviors.6
3. Your Physical Health Deteriorates
Sleep is extremely crucial in regulating our overall physical well-being. Good sleep helps repair damaged or worn out blood vessels, muscles, and tissues. Chronic sleep deprivation has, thus, rightly been shown to contribute to heart disease, hypertension, kidney issues, stroke, and diabetes.7 Lack of good sleep also puts one at risk for obesity across all age groups.8
Good sleep also ensures a robust immune system which helps your body defend itself against viral and bacterial infections. Sleep deficiency makes you more vulnerable to harmful contaminants and germs around you.9
4. Your Workplace Productivity Falls
Sleep deficiency has been shown to make you less productive at work. When employees are sleep deprived they tend to nod off at work. They struggle to feel motivated, pay attention, and follow instructions, while taking longer to complete tasks and making more errors. By depriving themselves of optimal levels of sleep, employees “put themselves, their teams, their companies, and the general public in serious jeopardy,” claims Dr. Charles Czeisler, professor at Harvard Medical School.
If you are a working professional, lack of sleep can prove to be dangerous. It hampers your ability to function well, destroys workplace performance, and leads to serious impairment which is “as risky as intoxication,” contends Czeisler.10
5. Your Hormonal Balance Is Disrupted
When we sleep, our bodies secrete important hormones that help regulate our appetite, metabolism, and energy levels. So when we don’t get enough sleep, our body’s normal hormonal balance is disrupted.
Poor sleep elevates our cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and insulin which can lead to weight gain and diabetes. Lack of sleep also decreases our leptin (the hormone that signals fullness to our brain) and increases ghrelin levels (the hormone that makes us hungry). So if you’re not getting proper sleep, you’re not only likely to experience frequent food cravings, but also feel too tired to work out and burn those excess calories.11
6. Your Safety Is Compromised
Poor sleep is not only bad for our health, it also leads to other unhealthy and dangerous behaviors like falling asleep while driving and excessive daytime drowsiness. The National Department of Transportation estimates that about 40,000 injuries and 1550 deaths occur each year in the U.S. due to drowsy drivers.12
Easy Tips To Get Good Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends practicing good “sleep hygiene” to promote healthy and regular sleeping habits. Good sleep hygiene habits that sleep experts recommend are:
- Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
- Avoid nicotine products, alcohol, and coffee before bedtime.
- Stick to a routine. This means waking up and going to bed at roughly the same time every day – yes, even on weekends. This helps regulate your internal body clock, helping you wake up easily in the morning and fall asleep naturally at night.
- Adopt a relaxing nighttime routine. Reading, listening to calming music, a warm (not hot) shower, and meditation can help wind you down.
- Stay away from bright lights and computer/TV/smartphone screens. Blue lights emitted from screens stimulate your brain, making it difficult to fall asleep.
- Keep your bedroom temperature between 60 and 67 degrees.
- Consider using blackout blinds or curtains, eye masks, and white noise machines to block out distractions.13
Remember to include sleep in your list of priorities, and snug in some good z’s into your daily schedule.
|↑1, ↑3, ↑12||Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Sleep Statistics & Research. The Better Sleep Council.|
|↑4||Sleep Health Index 2014 – Highlights. National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑5, ↑9||Why Is Sleep Important? National Institutes of Health.|
|↑6||Why Is Sleep Important?. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7||Why Is Sleep Important?. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑8||Sleep Deprivation and Obesity. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.|
|↑10||Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer. Harvard Business Review.|
|↑11||Sleep and Disease Risk. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑13||Healthy Sleep Tips. National Sleep Foundation.|