When it comes to your health, sleep is a vital player in keeping you well rested and keeping your immune system resilient. Not getting enough sleep could be affecting you more than you know it. To keep your immune system strong with the up-coming flu season and keep your mental health in check here is what you need to know about your sleep.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep is crucial for many reasons, mostly the quality of your sleep directly affects your mental and physical wellbeing, as well as your quality of life and safety. The way you feel when you wake up and throughout the day, partly depends on what happens when you are sleeping.
When you are asleep your body doesn’t just shut down. While you’re sleeping your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. Your brain is staying busy while you rest, by making sure your body is running in top condition for the next day by overseeing your body’s biological maintenance. In children and teenagers, sleep also supports growth and development.
The damage from sleep deficiency can have immediate consequences, such as a car crash. Ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for chronic health problems. This will harm you over time, by affecting how well you think, react, work, learn, your mood and how you get along with others.
How many hours of sleep do I need?
The number of hours of sleep you need changes throughout your lifetime. While you are still an infant, you can need up to 17 hours of sleep each day, while some older adults may need only seven hours of sleep a night.
An age-based guideline is strictly just that, a guideline. It is a suggestion based on research on how much sleep will be optimal for your mental and physical health, however every individual is different and sometimes a few extra hours of sleep are needed.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, these are the recommended hours of sleep per age group:
Bedtimes are usually based on the time you usually wake up. Below is a sleep calculator by the National Sleep Foundation, and this gives you an estimation of what time you should fall asleep to get the maximum optimal sleep, by allowing 15 minutes to fall asleep and completing five or six 90-minute sleep cycles.
The best way to know if you’re getting enough sleep is to evaluate how you feel during your day. If you are feeling tired and drained than you should probably add a few extra hours of rest.
What are some of the benefits of a good night’s sleep?
Good sleep can improve concentration and productivity
Your brain is working with your body so while you’re asleep your body is regenerating. Sleep helps with basic brain functions, by using concentration and focus, it productively helps your memories be stored in either your short-term memory pile or your long-term memory pile. Not only with productivity, a good night’s sleep helps with cognition and performance of your brain functions.
Good sleep can maximise athletic performance
Longer sleep has been shown to improve many aspects of athletic and physical performance. In a study on basketball players by the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic, longer sleep was shown to significantly improve speed, accuracy, reaction times and mental wellbeing. Less sleep duration has been associated with poor exercise performance and functional limitation in older women found in a study by the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Sleep improves your immune function
If you often get colds, ensuring that you get at least 8 hours of sleep per night could be very helpful. Without sufficient sleep your body makes fewer cytokines proteins, which specifically targets infection and inflammation, creating an effective immune response. These cytokine proteins are only released and created during your sleep. A two week study monitored the development of the common cold after giving people nasal drops with the cold virus and they found that those who slept less than seven hours were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept eight hours of more.
How is sleep deprivation and deficiency affecting you?
Sleep deficiency is a broader concept, as it occurs if you have one or more of the following:
- You don’t get enough sleep (sleep deprivation)
- You sleep at the wrong time of the day (you’re out of sync with your body’s natural clock)
- You don’t sleep well or get any of the benefits from rest your body needs
- You have a sleeping disorder that prevents you from getting enough sleep or causes poor quality sleep
Sleep deficiency can lead to physical and mental problems, injuries, loss of productivity and even a greater risk of death. Sleep deficiency is linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity and depression. In addition, sleep deficiency is associated with an increased risk of injury in adults, teens and children.
Some other effects of sleep deprivation are:
- Fatigue, lethargy, and lack of motivation
- Moodiness and irritability; increased risk of depression
- Decreased sex drive; relationship problems
- Impaired brain activity; learning, concentration, and memory problems
- Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills; difficulty making decisions
- Inability to cope with stress, difficulty managing emotions
- Premature skin aging
- Weakened immune system; frequent colds and infections; weight gain
- Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents; hallucinations and delirium
- Increased risk of serious health problems including stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers
What are the signs that you are not getting enough sleep?
If you’re getting less than approximately eight hours of sleep each night, chances are you’re sleep deprived. You also probably don’t know how much your lack of sleep is affecting you. Most of the signs of sleep deprivation or sleep deficiency are more subtle than just falling face first into your food during lunch or dinner.
Sleep deficiency can cause problems with learning, focusing, and reacting. You may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, remembering things, controlling your emotions and behaviour, and coping with change.
If you’ve been skimping on sleep for a while, you may not even remember how it feels to be wide awake and fully alert. It might feel normal for you to doze off during a boring work meeting, or struggle to get through the last remaining hours of the workday, maybe dozing off after dinner, truth is -that’s only “normal” if you are sleep deprived.
You may be sleep deprived or sleep deficient if you do these:
- Need an alarm clock in order to wake up on time
- Rely on the snooze button
- Have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning
- Feel sluggish in the afternoon
- Get sleepy in meetings, lectures, or warm rooms
- Get drowsy after heavy meals or when driving
- Need to nap to get through the day
- Fall asleep while watching TV or relaxing in the evening
- Feel the need to sleep in on weekends
- Fall asleep within five minutes of going to bed
What are some strategies to get you the sleep you need?
You can take steps to improve your sleep habits. First, make sure you are allowing yourself enough time to sleep. Also, rule out any medical conditions or tablets that might be causing your sleep deficiency.
Some strategies to improve your sleep habits are:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This will help restore your body’s natural clock as well.
- Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than an hour, staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body’s natural clock.
- Use the hour before bed for quiet time, avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. iPhones and Macs are now equipped with ‘night shift’, which allows your phone or computer screen to automatically adjust to display warmer colours by using the clock and geolocation of your device to determine the sunset. Most importantly, it helps with sleep quality by reducing the impact of blue light to the body’s circadian rhythms and it also lessens the digital eye strain.
- Avoid heavy or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. Also, avoid alcoholic drinks.
- Another thing to avoid is nicotine and caffeine as these are stimulants and both substances interfere with sleep.
- Spend time outside and be physically active, regular exercise can improve the symptoms of many sleep disorders and problems. Aim for 30 minutes or more of activity on most days—but not too close to bedtime.
- Improve your sleep environment, try keeping your bedroom dark, quiet and cool, and reserve your bed for just sleeping.
Words by Ece Demir
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