Yes, you read that right. You may have even read it before. But chances are, you aren’t acting on it and are one of the millions of Americans who are not getting sufficient quality sleep—so many of us are under sleeping that it’s now considered a public health crisis.
I stress quality because research indicates that adults need 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep for optimal performance. Tossing and turning in bed for 7-8 hours doesn’t quite cut it.
Assuming you want to sleep more and better—and who wouldn’t—how can you?
The typical recommendations are great, such as turning off electronics well before bedtime; making the bedroom dark and cool; cutting caffeine out in the afternoon and evening. But you may find them hard to start acting on without a better understanding of how a lack of sleep contributes to those chronic conditions, mood swings, automobile crashes and occupational errors.
Sleep isn’t Simple
Sleep is more complicated than you think. There are five phases of sleep, each deeper than the one before, with the fifth stage being the well-known REM cycle.
You don’t go through each phase once during a single night’s sleep. You go through the five phases about every 90 minutes. But the cycles of 90 minutes aren’t the same. In the beginning, we spend most of our sleeping minutes in stages 3-4, whereas we spend more time in REM during the last few 90-minute cycles.
It gets even more complicated, but let’s leave it at that for now. Suffice to say, each phase plays a different and important role. And when we cheat sleep, we cheat ourselves out of the benefits of the phases, including muscle repair, and hormone balance.
Sleep and Health
Those hormones I just mentioned are important. Hormones are chemicals produced in our body that tell certain cells or organs what to do. So when our hormones are off either in amount or timing, we’re off.
In the case of sleep deprivation: cortisol production is increased, leptin levels are decreased, ghrelin is increased, and insulin production is thrown off. How you process glucose may also be affected. These are why poor sleep is associated with a risk for obesity and/or Type 2 Diabetes.
As for high blood pressure and heart disease, studies show chronic sleep deprivation is associated with increased heart rate and blood pressure levels.
Why You Aren’t Sleeping
So now that you know all this, and maybe you knew it before, why aren’t you sleeping enough?
There are probably a number of contributing factors but a big one that many share is underestimating your need for sleep. Or maybe you associate working late-night/long hours with hard work and sleep with laziness. Or maybe all of the above.
If this is you, keep the following in mind:
- Accept that you need sleep.
- Remind yourself of this when you are tempted to pull late hours or all-nighters.
- Keep in mind that when you are sleep-deprived you are more likely to make a mistake, less creative, more prone to unethical behavior, and more irritable.
- Remind yourself that sleeping is not a sign of weakness or laziness, it’s a sign of self-care. And even commitment to your workplace, as getting enough sleep improves your working memory, and will make you more productive, more efficient, more pleasant, and if you’re a supervisor/manager, a better leader.
- Sleeping more is a habit change, which means it will take time. So take it one night at a time. For tips on how to get started making life changes, check out my Article, The Key to Change? Finding Step One.
photo credit: Kayla Kandzorra
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- Sufficient Quality Sleep is a Priority Not a Luxury - June 3, 2016
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