Everyone needs sleep. In fact, the average person spends one-third of their life sleeping. Sleep is so important that the Center for Disease Control actually named insufficient sleep as a public health epidemic.
We’ve all experienced the signs of not getting enough sleep: the crankiness and fogginess, the constant yawning, and the undeniable desire for caffeine. Apart from just yawning all day, a lack of sleep is actually linked to higher risk for car accidents and job-related accidents and mistakes. The week of March 2nd to March 8th is Sleep Awareness week, perfectly coinciding with daylight savings when we’ll spring forward, and sadly lose an hour of sleep.
How Lack of Sleep Affects the Body
In the short term, not sleeping enough simply causes grogginess and forgetfulness but there are serious long-term side effects of lack of sleep. Here’s how it affects different parts of your body:
- Brain: Everyone has experienced the slower reactions and slight confusion that follows you around all day after not sleeping well. This is because the neurons in your brain are being repaired while you sleep and new pathways are built to help process new information. For children and teenagers, sleep is especially important since the brain releases hormones associated with not only growth and development, but also learning and cognitive functions. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to an increased risk of stroke, memory loss, and depression.
- Digestive System: Along with over-eating and not exercising, sleep deprivation is one of the risk factors for obesity. The stress from not sleeping enough throws your hormones out of balance and also increases your risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Cardiovascular System: The strain of not enough sleep and out of balance hormones also wreaks havoc on your heart. A recent study showed that people who slept for 6 hours or less each night, or had trouble staying asleep, had a 48% higher risk of developing heart disease.
- Immune System: All of the added stress of sleep deprivation also weakens your immune system, making it easier to get sick. With a weak immune system, it’s also harder to rebound from getting sick and will take longer to make a full recovery. So listen to your doctor, take a sick day, and sleep off those colds!
How Much Sleep Is Enough Sleep
Everyone’s sleep needs are different. Despite the commonly recommended 8 hours per night, not everyone falls into that range. Specifically, infants, children, and teenagers need more sleep than that.
The new guidelines by the National Sleep Foundation recommends:
- Newborns (0 to 3 months) — 14 to 17 hours per day
- Infants (4 to 11 months) — 12 to 15 hours per day
- Toddlers (1 to 2 years old) — 11 to 14 hours per day
- Preschoolers (3 to 5 years old) — 11 to 14 hours per day
- School age (6 to 13 years old) — 9 to 11 hours per day
- Teens (14 to 17 years old) — 8 to 10 hours per day
- Younger adults (18 to 25 years old) — 7 to 9 hours per day
- Adults (26 to 64 years old) — 7 to 9 hours per day
- Older adults (65 and older) — 7 to 8 hours per day
How to Get Better Sleep
Despite knowing why you need sleep and how much you need, the act of sleeping is easier said than done, for most people. Here are a few tips on how to sleep more soundly tonight:
- Stick to a sleep schedule: Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning helps regulate your internal body clock so your body knows when to prep for sleep.
- Exercise: No matter what the health issue is, exercise is always good for you. Cardio-heavy workouts not only help you sleep longer, but also helps you sleep better. With that said though, try to avoid vigorous exercise 4 hours before bedtime so that your body has time to properly cool down.
- Cut that afternoon caffeine jolt: Even though that afternoon lull might be hitting you at your desk, try to resist the temptation for caffeine after 2 pm. Caffeine typically stays in your body for about 8 hours and will prevent you from entering deep sleep.
- Take time to wind down: Sleep isn’t an instantaneous thing; it’s usually a process to fall asleep. Though it may be second nature by now, try to avoid those pesky smartphones, tablets, laptop screens – all of those screens emit blue fluorescent light that prevents the brain from producing melatonin, the sleep-regulating hormone. Plus, all of those games, emails, and online shows only stimulate our brains rather than relaxing them. Instead, relax in bed with your comfy pjs and a book – that way your brain is primed and ready for sleep by the time your head hits the pillow.
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