Getting enough sleep is critical for health, wellbeing, and productivity. Lack of sleep is associated with many negative health effects and poor social outcomes. It’s ironic, then, that even though we know sleep is good for us, human beings are the only animals on the planet known to deny themselves this critical health inducer. Even babies know better!
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that a third of adult Americans don’t get enough sleep, averaging just 6.5 hours a night. It’s so bad that the CDC has now classified lack of sleep as a public health problem!
How Much Sleep is Enough?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults over age 18 need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night to be healthy. How do you know where on this spectrum your own sleep needs fall? Pay attention to how you feel. Do you wake up feeling refreshed after 7 hours of sleep? Or, do you need 8 hours or 9 hours of sleep? Keep track of your hours of sleep and energy levels for a week or two to find your personal sleep target.
Do you need caffeine to get through the day? Do you lack the energy to exercise? Are you exhausted by mid-afternoon? Those are signs that you’re not getting enough sleep. And, it’s a myth that you can deny yourself sleep during the week and “catch up” on the weekend.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
Folk wisdom tells us that the early bird catches the worm. You set your alarm, or two or three, and get out of bed whether you feel rested or not. You may tell yourself that it’s just the way life is. But, you need to know that your sleep deprivation is linked with many negative outcomes.
People who don’t get enough sleep have a 24% higher mortality rate! That’s right. Not getting enough sleep is literally killing you.
Have you had trouble losing weight, no matter how much you diet and how hard you exercise? Did you know that lack of sleep also leads to increased weight gain? When we’re overtired, our body misreads our cues for sleep as cues for hunger. We reach for a snack to get through the afternoon, when what we really need is more sleep.
Lack of sleep is directly related to accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that sleepy drivers cause 72,000 crashes every year, injuring 44,000 people and killing as many as 6,000 people. Sleep deprived employees are 70% more likely to be involved in workplace accidents.
Lack of sleep is also associated with increases in depression and anxiety. Sleep deprived people are less productive at work and less attentive in their personal lives. Hopefully, you are convinced that your sleep matters. A lot!
Why is It So Hard to Get a Good Night Sleep?
Why is sleep such a problem in modern society? There are many lifestyle factors that prevent us from sleeping. When we don’t get enough sleep, we compensate by reaching for the caffeine. It only takes about 45 minutes for that four-shot cappuccino to be absorbed. But, that caffeine is still in your system six hours later. If you have a caffeine-laden drink at 4 p.m., you will still feel the effects at 10 p.m. No wonder you have trouble sleeping!
Stress and sleep are like dysfunctional relatives. Lack of sleep makes you more anxious and depressed. And, stress makes it harder to sleep. What do you do? If you’re like many Americans, you reach for a smoke or an alcoholic beverage to “take the edge off.” But, what you’re really doing is making it harder to sleep!
TV in the bedroom? The blue light from screens—your TV, tablet, smartphone, or gaming consoles—is “short-wavelength enriched.” It tells your body not to produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Like smoking and alcohol, you may think you are “vegging out,” but you’re really telling your brain to become more alert. And that prevents you from sleeping.
So, how can you get a good night sleep in the busy, stressful modern world? Keep an eye out for our upcoming blogs:
- What You Can Do to Get A Better Night’s Sleep
- How Beyond Health Can Help You Sleep Better