Do you really need 8 hours sleep? Every Night? From increased anxiety to an early death, it’s time to reassess your nighttime habits!
Sleep, that sweet nirvana of sliding into a soft bed, fluffy pillows and crisp sheets for a hours and hours and hours of blissful slumber. Wait. What? Who has the time or energy for that kind of rest and relaxation? Every night? Turns out that’s precisely what sleep is: ENERGY.
“Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders. “Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance.”
What’s more, for every hour of rest time you lose, you also lose energy – straining your physical, mental and emotional health. Who’s ready for naptime?
The time to sleep is now
Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the book “Why We Sleep,” spent decades researching how an overtired brain and body can make us vulnerable to cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, obesity, stroke, chronic pain, diabetes, and heart attacks, among other medical conditions. “The silent sleep loss epidemic is one of the greatest public health challenges we face in the 21st century.”
But, you say, I can catch up on my lost sleep over the weekend. You’re not alone. Many of us sleep less than we need during our work week and attempt to stockpile sleep on the weekend. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine says sleep is not a financial transaction where you can deposit over the weekend and cash in on it later.
Beyond expert opinion, there’s a pile of research that backs up the merits of developing consistent sleep habits. Many studies show that people suffering from chronic insomnia are 5 times more likely to develop depression and 20 times more likely to develop a panic disorder.
What happens when we skimp on sleep?
- Obesity. When your body is short on sleep, it tries to level set the loss with food intake. Trouble is, your tired body craves salty and sweet treats, rather than healthy carrot sticks or apple slices. See the problem?
- High blood pressure. “Research has shown that those who do not get a good night’s sleep exhibit higher rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and strokes, says Dr. Marc Leavey, Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville, Maryland. “Sleep provides the restorative resources for the body to recover from the day’s activities and prepare for the next.”
- Loss of short term and long term memories. Your brain requires a shutdown and reboot every day, to sort and store or discard memories. From animal studies, we know that the brain replays previous experiences while we sleep, strengthening them into memories during slow-wave sleep (the deep sleep phase) and REM time.
- Overall mental health. “Insomnia is often linked with anxiety and depression,” explains Elika Kormeili, a Los Angeles-based licensed therapist. “It’s often hard to tell which comes first, but anxiety makes it harder to sleep and lack of sleep tends to make people more anxious.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation, better sleep – and a healthier you – is all about your sleep hygiene, which means habits that can help improve your sleep quality. Making a commitment to improve your sleep hygiene will affect more than just your health though – your family and co-workers will benefit too.
How to improve your sleep hygiene and get better sleep
- Exercise early in the day. Moving your body more during the day will help your body release tension from stress and fall asleep faster at night. Getting outdoors and soaking up the sunshine is your best option but any form of exercise is better than none at all.
- Get performance driven sleep gear. Remember your favorite childhood blankie? Find your adult comfy zone with a supportive mattress and pillows, as well as sheets and blankets. Don’t forget accessories, such as earplugs or a sleep mask.
- Follow a bedtime routine. Set your alarm for an hour before you want to be asleep and begin dimming lights and powering down electronics. The blue lights from those screens stimulate your brain, suppressing melatonin (the sleep hormone).
- Spoil your inner sleeper. Lavender spray for your pillow, a good book and soothing music will help your inner sleeper begin to “expect” sleep, which will make it much easier for you to fall asleep when the time is right.
- Create your own sleep playlist. You have favorite songs for exercising so why not create one to help you fall asleep? This list will get you started…