Simply put, good sleep equals good health. When it comes to our overall well-being, having good sleep habits is just as important as healthy diet and exercise. Unfortunately, sleep is often the first thing to get sacrificed when it comes to our busy, hectic, modern lives. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 American adults is suffering from sleep deprivation, with nearly 9 million taking some form of prescription sleep aid. And this doesn’t include the even larger number who turn to OTC sleep medications.
One of the problems with sleep aids and remedies is that they don’t always work as well as advertised, and many people still don’t feel any more rested. Prescription drugs and OTC sleep medications can be helpful in certain situations, but they also have their liabilities and side effects. Most sleep experts agree that sleep drugs are limited in the extent of their ability to provide long-term solutions, and these drugs are also easily prone to misuse.
With sleep deprivation at an all-time high, the cumulative effect of sleep debt can cause some significant health problems, including:
- Memory loss
- Weakened immune system
- Impaired brain activity and motor skills
- Premature aging
- Increased risk of other health issues, like high blood pressure and heart disease
With sleep deprivation, your eating habits are also adversely affected, increasing your desire for sugary foods that can lead to overeating and weight gain. A sustained sense of fatigue can also lead to a lesser motivation to exercise, as well. The result? A very unhealthy cycle that revolves around continued lack of rest is sustained.
Why Can’t We Sleep?
So, why can’t we sleep? Some people do suffer with clinically-diagnosed sleep disorders, but a lot of our sleep problem in America boils down to changes in our modern lifestyle that have negative repercussions on our ability to get enough rest. As a society, we’re working longer hours, driving longer commutes, and are generally busier than ever. This leaves less time for sleep because you’ve still got to help the kids with their homework, pay your bills, clean the house, and maybe even have an adult conversation at some point. With all those things on the table, sleep tends to be the odd man out. It’s also hard to rest when you stay stressed – can you relate? And our addiction to our screens isn’t helping us rest, either. Many people stay up late entertaining themselves on electronic devices, and research suggests that blue light from these devices may interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
But the good news is this – you can improve your overall health and optimize your well-being by choosing to prioritize sleep as a non-negotiable daily habit. And that all starts by making sure you get enough hours of quality slumber each night.
How Much Sleep Do We Need For Our Health?
It’s a question that people have been wrestling with for ages: how much sleep do I really need? The answer to that question does vary somewhat for each individual, but age is a primary factor in determining how much sleep your body needs. Infants and children do need a lot more sleep than adults, but that doesn’t mean that adults should take their sleep for granted. Here’s a general guideline from the Mayo Clinic:
● Newborns: 14-17 hours
● 1-5 years: 10-13 hours
● 6-13 years: 9-11 hours
● 14-17 years: 8-10 hours
● Adults: 7-9 hours
Sleep is not only a time for rest, but it’s also essential for our bodies to be able to repair themselves properly. The benefits of good sleep include:
● Rebuilds muscle tissue
● Keeps your heart healthy
● Reduces stress and inflammation
● Helps process our emotions
● Regulates our metabolism and immune system
Keep a Sleep Diary
If you’re facing sleep problems, or just want to increase your overall sleep quality, sleep specialists recommend keeping a sleep diary or log. A sleep diary not only records how well you slept (or not) during the night, but it also keeps track of what time you went to bed, your pre-sleep routine, and how you felt when you woke up. By keeping and paying attention to your sleep diary, you’ll gain a clearer understanding of your daily sleep patterns and any recurring problems. More importantly, it will also help you recognize what you might need to change so you can get a better night’s sleep!
If you’re interested in beginning a sleep diary, the National Sleep Foundation offers a free, downloadable 7-day journal.
Need More Help Getting to Sleep and Getting the Right Kind of Sleep?
Need more tips on how you can start getting your best sleep now? Check out these blog posts for some of our top sleep tips and ideas: