When we get busy, sleep is often the first thing to go. How many times have you pulled an all-nighter or woken up before sunrise to get a jump start on a project?
While an occasional sleepless night probably won’t cause much damage in the long run, chronic sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your health.
Although circadian rhythm and genetics play a role in how much sleep you need, most adults need between seven to eight hours of sleep each night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The sweet spot varies from person to person.
Children and teenagers need more hours of sleep depending on their age and development stage.
Poor sleep can affect your health and safety. Research shows:
- Mood, memory, coordination, reaction times, productivity and judgement can all be adversely affected by lack of sleep. Evidence suggests sleep deprivation can increase risk taking.
- Inadequate sleep can weaken the immune system, and has been linked to depression, asthma, arthritis, heartburn and chronic pain.
- Poor sleep has been linked to neurological disorders and dementia, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- The likelihood of causing a car accident when sleep deprived is about that of driving at or above the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.08 percent.
There are a few things you can do to help yourself fall asleep, stay asleep and improve your overall quality of sleep.
Sleep specialists recommend adopting good sleep hygiene as the first and foremost way to improve sleep. Sleeping pills shouldn’t be the first step. Research has shown that the risk of death for regular users of sleeping pills is more than four times higher than for nonusers.
Instead, Dr. Jamil offers the following five tips:
Limit usage of electronic devices and blue light 45–60 minutes before bed. The blue and white light emitted by phones and other devices (televisions, computers, tablets, LED and fluorescent light bulbs) inhibit melatonin production, which is the most powerful natural hormone that induces sleep.
Likewise, avoid these when you wake up in the middle of the night.
Make sure your bedroom is clean, quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature.
Maintain a regular wake-up time, even on the weekends or during vacations to the extent possible. Consistent bedtime and wake-up time significantly help your sleep cycle.
Avoid caffeine (tea, coffee, soda, other caffeinated beverages or food) in the afternoon. Do not eat late or have a large meal before bedtime. Limit amount of alcohol and avoid alcohol within 3-4 hours of bedtime. Although alcohol can help you fall asleep by its sedating mechanism, it is well-known to cause sleep fragmentation for the remainder of the night’s sleep.
Exercising during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at bedtime. However, avoid moderate to strenuous exercise within three hours of bedtime as it can affect sleep.
If you can’t sleep, you’re not alone. Many people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep:
- 60 million Americans annually experience sleep disorders.
- One in four women experience insomnia, and women are more likely than men to have trouble sleeping due to hormonal changes.
- Insomnia is the most common sleep problem in people over 60.