Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. To determine how much sleep you need, it’s important to assess not only where you fall on the “sleep needs spectrum,” but also to examine what lifestyle factors are affecting the quality and quantity of your sleep such as work schedules and stress. To get the sleep you need, you must look at the big picture.
Little Sleep – Big Consequences
It’s a basic necessity of life, as important to our health and well-being as air, food and water. When we sleep well, we wake up feeling refreshed, alert and ready to face daily challenges. When we don’t, every part of our lives can suffer. Our jobs, relationships, productivity, health and safety (and that of those around us) are all put at risk. And lack of sleep due to sleep loss or sleep disorders can take a serious toll. If fact, consider these consequences of chronic sleep deprivation:
- Getting four hours of sleep – for five nights in a row – has a similar impact on memory, attention, and thought processing as being legally intoxicated.
- It’s estimated that lack of sleep is adversely impacting some 50-million to 70-million Americans.
- More than one in three Americans are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with their daily activities.
- More than 1,500 people die each year in fatigue-related crashes.
- The cumulative, long-term effects of inadequate sleep have been associated with serious health conditions including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.
Getting enough sleep is thus one of the best (and free!) ways to maximize your health. Specifically how much sleep is “enough,” varies by age and individual need. In the chart below, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these sleep guidelines:
The Keys to Z’s
The following tips are designed to facilitate getting a good night’s sleep:
- Go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time – every day – including weekends.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual – such as reading, taking a bath, or meditating; whatever the ritual, it should not involve electronic devices.
- Exercise daily; vigorous exercise is most effective, but even light exercise can promote sleep. It’s important, however, to complete your workout at least three hours before turning in for the night.
- Establish an environment that is conducive to sleep; room temperature should be between 60 and 67 degrees, and your bedroom should be free of both noise and light.
- Invest in a good mattress; if your mattress is more than 10 years old, it’s likely time to replace it.
- Don’t consume caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy/spicy meals in the evening; it’s best to stop eating at least two to three hours before bedtime.
When to See a Doctor
If you are consistently unable to sleep, a medical problem may be to blame. If any of the following apply to you, schedule an appointment with your doctor:
- snore loudly;
- stop breathing or gasp for breath during sleep;
- feel sleepy or doze off while watching TV, reading, driving, or engaged in daily activities;
- have difficulty sleeping three nights a week or more (e.g., trouble falling asleep, waking up several times during the night);
- experience tingling or nervousness in your legs when trying to sleep;
- frequent interruptions to your sleep (heartburn, pain, discomfort).