And if you don't believe me, the good people at Harvard Medical are here to back me up with 6 reasons NOT to scrimp on sleep:
- Adequate sleep promotes learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
- Sleep affects metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
- Sleep deprivation threatens safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
- Sleep affects mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
- Adequate, quality sleep is correlated to good cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
- Sleep is a key player in a healthy immune system: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help prevent and fight cancer.
Okay, so sleep is good. But how many people really get enough sleep?? Studies conducted have indicated the the majority of us are not getting enough quality sleep, which doesn't surprise me since we Americans lead these busy, go-go-go kind of lives. I have said multiple times throughout my life that sleep seems to be the best friend I can never have. When I haven't been pulling late nights studying as a college student or up with a crying baby in the middle of the night, I have suffered from insomnia off and on. Interestingly enough, insomnia is often a symptom/indicator of sleep deprivation; how ironic is that!? Sometimes I think, "well no wonder I feel like crap! I NEED MORE SLEEP!" So if you're needing to catch some extra "zzzz's" and need a few little pointers or guidelines, here are a few little tips I have learned about sleep from class after class after class, as well as from my own personal experience:
* Whatever sleep you can get, try to make it consistent. I remember one of my professors saying that it would be better to consistently get 6 hours of sleep every night going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every morning, than to get an average of 7 hours of sleep a night but varying bedtime from 9pm one night to 12am the next to 10pm the next. Our bodies run on an internal clock and the more we can keep scheduled wake and sleep hours the way our bodies like, the better they can function and the healthier we will be. I remember an oncologist (cancer doctor) once speaking to a bunch of us nurses at a convention about the increased incidence of cancer in nurses who worked mixed night and day shifts (aka nurses who had sporadic, varied times of sleep). Thanks, doc. I now have even a greater phobia of cancer.
* The average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night. My body likes between 7-8, and everyone is different, so experiment a little. You want enough sleep, but getting too much sleep can also be draining.
* Don't press the snooze! It won't help you feel more rested. In fact, notice that you'll often feel more drained throughout the day. That is because when you "snooze" for five more minutes, you are not allowing your body to run through a full "sleep cycle". Did you know that while you sleep, your body goes through four different stages of sleep about every 90 minutes? Getting multiple full sleep cycles every night is what helps our bodies to feel rested when we get up in the morning. This is why a person who sleeps for 10 hours at night can still feel completely drained the next day if he was waking up every 1/2 hour at night: he was not going through complete sleep cycles. He was not getting quality sleep! So skip the snooze. It's not going to help (but it sure is enticing sometimes!).
* Create a routine. If you suffer from insomnia, it could be a symptom of sleep deprivation or it could be anxiety-related. I think my insomnia comes from both. :) And you know what has helped me the most? The routine!
~ Going to bed at the same time every night
~ Taking time to relax, meditate, or unwind so my mind isn't going a million miles a minute
~ Using a noise machine, soft music, anything consistent or repetitive to help me fall asleep. For
years, I would listen to the same religious talk on tape as I fell asleep. I had heard it so many
times that my brain no longer paid close attention to every word, and the soft, quiet voice would
put me out within minutes where it would have taken me an hour plus to fall asleep otherwise.
Sleep is really kind of my personal little soap box on health. I swear by it. Doesn't mean I always get it, but I swear by it. I can honestly say that my health is ALWAYS better (and dramatically so) when I am getting enough, quality, consistent sleep. And seeing as it is now 10pm, perhaps that is what I will go do right now. :)