Much more than just making you feel better on a superficial level, getting enough sleep is an essential part of any healthy lifestyle. Although it can be tempting with a busy lifestyle to sacrifice a little sleep in favour of more productivity, doing so can take real toll on your overall health.
How much you need
Although the average adult clocks in about seven hours sleep per night, in reality you need at least seven and half and up to nine hours of sleep per night to be functioning at your best. Skipping half an hour of sleep each night may not sound like much of a sacrifice, but in fact over time this racks up a hefty sleep debt.
Many adults operating on six or seven hours of sleep each night may not appear to be suffering from sleep deprivation, but would no doubt benefit dramatically from just a slight adjustment to their time in bed. A good way to evaluate whether or not you’re getting enough sleep is your energy levels. If you find your energy lagging throughout the day, chances are you’ve got some degree of sleep debt.
Sleep cycles occur in ninety-minute intervals throughout the night, and consist of four main stages. The first three involve non-REM sleep and are a gradual progression into deep sleep. The fourth stage, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, is when dreaming occurs and your eyes move rapidly. At this point in the sleep cycle your arm and leg muscles are paralysed, and you are very difficult to awaken.
Health detriments of poor sleep
Sleeping too much or too little has been associated with a range of negative health consequences. Research has shown that people who average six hours or less of sleep per night have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins, which are associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and premature aging.
Several studies – on both school and college-aged students – have shown that lack of sleep or sleep-related disorders can have a negative effect on grades, attention and learning. Additional risk factors associated with poor sleep include stress, depression, weight gain and even a higher likelihood to be involved in motor vehicle accidents.
Improving your sleep quality
With the almost endless benefits to getting better sleep, what are some techniques to improve your overall sleep quality?
You can start by catching up on your sleep debt. While sleeping in on the weekends isn’t enough to completely catch up on the sleep you’ve missed, adding an extra hour or two of sleep per night is a good start. You can also try keeping a sleep diary in order to record the times you went to bed, got up, and the hours of shut-eye you actually got. This will allow you to keep track of your sleeping patterns and where you’re slipping up. Lastly, make sleep a priority in your life, and don’t compromise on its importance to your overall health.
Of course, if you’re making a concerted effort to get enough sleep but aren’t seeing any of the benefits, it may be advisable to talk to your doctor about possible sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnoea.