It’s a new year and we’re all vowing to make changes and be better. One place to start to make the rest of your resolutions easier is with better sleep habits. Studies have found that people who sleep just 6 hours a night for 12 nights in a row record the same reaction time as those who didn’t sleep at all the night before. This highlights the effects of long-term sleep loss in just one area effected by our sleep.
The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
The time we spend sleeping is our bodies’ best time to restore itself. Studies have shown significant effects on normal people who lose as little as 2 hours of sleep just 1 night per week. It’s not just a bad mood and increased appetite, results also show increased heart rate and blood pressure as well as inflammation throughout the body. Glucose tolerance, immune function, and responsiveness are all impaired. The results of these effects are increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and psychiatric conditions like depression and substance abuse, not to mention nagging aches and pains and common colds.
Studies have also found that it only takes a few days of sleep restriction for a person’s perception of their sleepiness to level off. So, in most cases we become unaware of how tired we are and our deteriorating alertness and performance. Sleep restriction becomes chronic quickly leaving most sufferers unaware, left thinking of their state as their “norm.” Every night you shave off some sleep time “sleep debt” is accumulating, meaning it takes more than one night of getting enough sleep to return to optimal health and function. It can be a slippery slope of accumulation that quickly requires a long term fix.
You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned how much sleep we should be getting. The truth is there is no universal magic number, however research shows most adults need somewhere between 7-9 hours either per night or per 24-hour period. Considering that as little as two hours lost can effect your health and the given range is 2 hours, it will take trial, error, and attention to identify your optimal sleep schedule. Here is how the Sleep Foundation classifies a “healthy sleep”:
- You fall asleep within 15-20 minutes of lying down to sleep.
- You regularly sleep a total of 7-9 hours in a 24-hour period.
- While in your bed, your sleep is continuous–you don’t have long periods of lying awake when you wish to be sleeping.
- You wake up feeling refreshed, as if you’ve “filled the tank.”
- You feel alert and are able to be fully productive throughout the waking hours (note, it’s natural for people to feel a dip in alertness during waking hours, but with healthy sleep, alertness returns).
- Your partner or family members do not notice any disturbing or out of the ordinary behaviour from you while you sleep, such as snoring, pauses in breathing, restlessness, or otherwise nighttime behaviours.
It’s important to note that the hours don’t have to be accumulated at once. Some people find a shortened night sleep in combination with a nap(s) during the day to be their optimal schedule. Try keeping a journal to track how many hours you get and when, how long it took to fall asleep, how you feel after, and maybe even what stimulants and food you consume. This will help establish your optimal schedule.
If it’s not about finding time that has you losing sleep, there are many things that can help you get into the REM state. This is an area that I am best to refer out for, so I’ve gathered some resources that can get more specific with what might be causing your own insomnia:
- Sleepwell Nova Scotia is focused on non-medicated ways to manage insomnia.
- Sleep.org has information on diet, routine, environment, and so much more.
- The Canadian Sleep Society has found experts willing to answer your questions about sleep. Here in Nova Scotia our expert is Penny Corkum and can be reached at email@example.com or 902-494-5177.