At some point or another, we’ve all heard this rather impressive statistic: as humans, we spend approximately one-third of our lives asleep.
Perhaps more interesting are some statistics from the Sleep Association. Did you know that as many as 70 million adult Americans suffer from some kind of sleep disorder? Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with 30% of adults reporting short-term issues.
When it comes to sleep deprivation, there’s also a prevalent problem in the United States: 37% of 20-39 year-olds report not getting enough sleep. The number comes in at 40% for 40-59 year-olds.
To cut to the quick, we have a problem sleeping. As I get older, health is increasingly valuable to me. Sleep is definitely part of that. We could all do well to sleep better. Here’s how...and why.
Is Getting Enough Sleep Really Important?
Being grouchy isn’t the only side-effect of getting too little sleep. Sleep is incredibly important to overall health, and grabbing a cup of coffee when you’ve had a rough night isn’t a cure-all. Here’s why getting good sleep matters:
1) It keeps your brain healthy.
While you sleep, your brain is busy preparing for the next day. It’s building new pathways to help you remember and process information. Quality sleep helps you learn new skills and information more quickly, enhances problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, and attentiveness.
Additionally, a lack of sleep can negatively impact your brain when it comes to regulating emotions and behavior. Those who don’t sleep well or get enough sleep tend to be more depressed, prone to suicide, and risk-taking behaviors.
Mood swings, sadness, anxiety, and stress are all risks associated with a lack of sleep. Quality sleep, by contrast, keeps your brain balanced and healthy.
2) It balances your body.
Your body, too, benefits from sleep. Your hormones are affected! Oddly, there is a link between sleep deprivation and obesity risks. This is likely because sleep actually helps maintain a balance of the hormone ghrelin, which controls the feeling of hunger, and leptin, which controls feelings of fullness. As a result, those who don’t get enough sleep tend to feel more hungry than those who don’t.
3) It heals your heart.
One of the greatest benefits of sleep is for your heart. Sleep helps repair the heart and blood vessels, which helps reduce risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, increases risk—including risk for kidney disease and diabetes.
4) It improves performance and safety.
We all know that we’re more “on the ball” when we’ve had a good night’s sleep. At work, we’re more alert, on-task, and efficient. We’re less prone to missing details and making mistakes. And we know that missing out on sleep makes the opposite true.
But sleep also affects our personal safety. Microsleep (sleep that occurs in moments when we would normally be awake, often when we don’t realize it) can cause blanks in memory. Ever “space out” during a meeting or drive? You might have experienced a moment or two of microsleep. Driving drowsy is even more dangerous—more dangerous, in fact, than drunk driving can be.
So with all that said, if we’re suffering from sleep deprivation or poor quality sleep...what exactly can we do about it?
Improving Your Quality of Sleep in 4 Steps
1) Put away your devices.
The blue light generated by our devices, studies have found, actually keeps us awake for longer. Even blue light filters that phones incorporate aren’t the solution. The temptation to stay up and on our phones, browsing endlessly, can be too much. It’s far better to just cut yourself off at least 20-minutes before bedtime.
2) Stick to a schedule.
One of the biggest problems we have next to a lack of sleep is inconsistent sleep. While many of us try to stick to a schedule, a lack of a “bedtime” is harmful. Staying up later, going to bed early, sleeping in, getting up early...it throws the body off. Regardless of the day of the week or when you “have to get up,” it’s best to stick to the same times to go to sleep and get up. Go to bed on the early side and get up on the early side. It’s proven to be more effective for achieving quality sleep.
3) Create a wind-down routine.
We’re creatures of habit. If you find yourself struggling with insomnia, try crafting a routine to “power down” for an hour before bed. Take a cool shower, go through a hygiene routine of skin care and tooth brushing, read a book or do some easy stretches. It will help you ease from “on” to “off” more readily and prepare you to be relaxed and primed for quality, uninterrupted sleep.
4) Cut off the kitchen.
No more midnight snacks. Sorry! While it’s been debunked that snacking after supper causes weight gain, it will cause the quality of your sleep to decline. Eating or drinking before bedtime is likely going to cause you to need to get up in the middle of the night, either to use the restroom or wrestle with heartburn. Either way, you’re much more likely to have to deal with interrupted sleep.
While it may seem like we can sacrifice our sleep for "more important" things in life, it is a crucial part of maintaining good health. You will be amazed how your mood, health, and overall well-being will change with a good night's sleep!