Sleep deprivation is no joke. Seriously.
The fact is, 60 percent of Americans do not get enough restful sleep. The dangers of sleep deprivation pose a very real threat to the quality of one’s health. The good news is, by understanding the risks and learning how to get a great night’s sleep, you can reduce and prevent those health risks and move toward a better quality of life.
Sleep quantity and quality are essential
Numerous studies have clearly shown a spotlight on the negative risks associated with not getting enough sleep. And it’s not just the quantity of sleep; it’s also the quality that matters. Eight hours of fitful, restless and disturbed sleep does not have the same healing and recharging powers as does six hours of deep, restful, uninterrupted sleep.
Health risks associated with sleep deprivation
There are more than two dozen health risks associated with lack of sound sleep. And it only takes about a week of disrupted sleep to negatively affect one’s gene activity. Here is a short list of some of the consequences:
- Weakened immune response.
- Reduced stress control.
- Poor inflammation response.
- Increased levels of anxiety and panic attacks.
- Increased depression and poor mood regulation.
- Imbalanced hormonal levels, leading to unhealthy food cravings.
- Increased risk of injury and falls.
- Impaired overall cognition.
- Increased risk of hypertension.
- Elevated risk of heart disease.
- Increased risk of both breast and prostate cancer.
- Increased risk of stroke.
The sleepless statistics
If you think you are immune to the negative health issues related to sleep, think again. The statistic on sleep disorders can, well, keep you up all night worrying.
- 60 percent of Americans have a chronic sleep disorder, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement, and narcolepsy.
- 30 percent of American adults get less than six hours sleep per night.
- 40 percent of Americans accidentally fall asleep during the day, at least once a month. Many more need stimulants like coffee, candy bars and carbohydrate heavy snacks to boost their energy mid-day.
How much sleep is really needed?
It is common for people to think that we all need eight hours of sleep per night. Some people feel like they do better with more sleep, while others think they are just fine on six hours per night. Actually, there is no exact needed sleep time for all people. Research has, however, provided some very good guidelines based on age.
- Adults (18 years +) require seven to nine hours of restful sleep.
- Kids between the ages of 10 and 17 require 8.5 to nine hours of restful sleep
- Kids between the ages of 5 and 10 require 10 to 11 hours of restful sleep
Those who feel better with more sleep, perhaps that’s because the hourly quality of the sleep is not good. If the quality were better (e.g., uninterrupted, good REM time) then less sleep would be needed.
Those who get much less sleep and think they are OK, please review the above-list of health issue related to lack of sleep and see which you may have. That would be your answer.
How to reduce ‘preventable’ sleep loss
Chronic sleep deprivation can be caused by many things. In addition to the officially named “sleep disorders” mentioned above, I would like to add one more: activities in daily living (ADL). ADL are habits we maintain that contribute to sleep deprivation. That is to say, loss of sleep due to evening activity choices that are controllable. Therefore, the sleep loss related to ALD is preventable.
Nighttime activities that should be avoided to prevent insomnia or unrestful sleep, include:
- Texting before bed and/or while in bed. This habit leads to a later sleep time and a more active mind when a quieter one is needed.
- Reading before bed and/or while in bed, especially via iPads and laptops. Reading activates the mind, delaying sleep, and reading from backlit screens is reported to alter sleep quality.
- Keeping the cell phone on at night and close at hand. The constant text and message notification dings cause sleep disturbances and the perceived need to check for message.
- Eating a big meal or sweet snacks before bed is reported to cause sleep disturbed sleep, even nightmares.
- Drinking alcohol before bedtime reduces the ability to fall asleep and the quality of sleep. Consuming even water before bedtime can cause one to wake up to urinate, thus disturbing sleep.
5 ways to get a good night’s sleep
Objective statistics show and subjective feelings indicate that getting a proper night’s sleep is essential to health and overall quality of life. Now that you know the risks involved in not getting that sleep and you have an idea of some easily-changeable activities that contribute to sleep deprivations, let’s review a few ways to help get the best sleep ever.
- Create and stick to a constant sleep/wake schedule, even on the weekends. Staying within an hour of this schedule (while maintaining the needed hours) will set your circadian rhythm (body clock) to begin its wind down in preparation for a good night’s sleep. Eventually your body will naturally fall to sleep without issue and will wake up without an alarm, since the rhythm will be set and part of one’s homeostasis.
- Keep the sleeping room cooler at night, as the body rests better in cooler temperatures. Not cold, just cooler than your daytime temperature.
- Make the room as dark and as quiet as possible. Our bodies are set to sleep at night and awake in the day, so making the room dark and keeping it quiet will aid in falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Compose a comfortable bed. More than 70 percent of people report sleeping better while in comfortable bedding and on a comfortable mattress. And 90 percent say a comfortable pillow improves sleep. Comfort is big when it comes to relaxing at night and falling off into la-la land, not to mention reducing body pain.
- Find a comfortable sleeping posture. This is important for those who experience hip, shoulder, neck or other pain while sleeping, and also to prevent snoring, apnea and other issues that disturb sleep. Sleeping on your side, with knees bent and a pillow between them, with hands at your side or under the pillow is thought to be the best of all positions. Think of the fetal position, with some pillows for extra cushioning.
Getting enough hours of quality sleep every night is essential to good health and well-being. It also helps prevent ailments, issues and diseases caused by sleep deprivation. If you are not feeling well and also suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, review the information presented here and consider how it resonates for you. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Consider your sleep patterns, overall state of health, daily well-being, and adjust accordingly.