When it comes to sleep, it is just as important as diet and exercise. Sleep has been preserved across species and is crucial for survival. Unbelievably, we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on our health, make us less productive during the day and have a negative impact on our relationships. Though sleep and overall health are inseparably connected, most Americans live such busy lifestyles that sleep is sometimes sacrificed in order to get more done.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
The amount of sleep you need is unique to you. Contrary to popular belief, the amount of sleep you need is actually relatively stable across the life span. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep to function optimally but the average adult needs 7-9 hours.
The best way to determine how much sleep you need depends on how you feel during the day. If you’re falling asleep while at your desk, getting drowsy while driving, relying on coffee or energy drinks to get through the day or finding it hard to concentrate and focus at work, you may need more sleep.
Am I Getting Enough Sleep?
If you don’t know whether you’re getting enough sleep, below are some questions you can ask yourself. If you answer “yes” to any of them, you may need to rethink your sleep regimen.
- Do you feel like you are not getting quality sleep?
- Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
- Do you feel sleepy when driving?
- Do you feel sleepy when doing sedentary activity?
- Are you productive at work?
- Do you have difficulty concentrating?
If you regularly get 7-9 hours of sleep, but still feel tired, you may have to get more than the recommended amount. Some can thrive on 7 hours while others need 10. Listen to your body and adjust your sleep schedule to accommodate the ideal time for you.
How to Get More (and Better) Sleep
According to Sudhansu Chokroverty, MD, professor and co-chair of neurology and program director for clinical neurophysiology and sleep medicine at the New Jersey Neuroscience Institute at JFK Medical Center, the quality of our sleep takes a steep decline during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. Sudhansu notes that during adolescents, we sleep so soundly because we spend more time in “slow-wave deep sleep” which is a more restorative stage of sleep. As soon as we reach out early 20s, we spend less time in deep sleep and more time in a less-deeper, less restorative sleep called “middle sleep.” Therefore, the quality of our sleep is already diminishing as we enter adulthood.
The National Sleep Foundation notes that other factors can also affect your sleep as an adult. It has been observed that the quality of men’s sleep progressively worsens with age. For women, sleep quality diminishes during pregnancy and menopause.
If you’re struggling to get enough sleep, there are workable solutions. As mentioned earlier, sleep is not a priority to many Americans. The first step to getting more sleep is to make sleep a priority! Once sleep is a priority, you may find that your total sleep time increases and you are feeling better during the day.
If you’re like many who are having difficulty getting enough sleep, you may be suspicious of over-the-counter sleep-aids or sleep medications. There are valid reasons for your hesitation, sleep medications and over-the-counter sleep-aids can create dependence and tolerance – meaning you may come to need them in order to sleep well and/or you’ll have to take more in order for them to work. Unfortunately, many people think medication is the only option are they continue to struggle with sleep.
Here are some suggestions to help you get more sleep and better quality sleep without the use of over-the-counter sleep-aids or prescription medication:
- Avoid stimulants like coffee and energy drinks in the afternoon
- Avoid alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime and limit yourself to 1-2 drinks
- Avoid bright light or using stressful electronic devices (think work email on your smart phone) within 90 minutes of going to bed
- Exercise daily but not within 3 hours of bedtime
- Prioritize a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Listen to your body and establish a consistent sleep schedule. Keep the same sleep routine during the weekend. When your body gets used to going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, your circadian rhythm will get stronger leading to more restful sleep.
- Create a comfortable sleep environment. Adjust the lighting, temperature and noise level so it is most conducive to sleep.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillow
Sleep is not something to take for granted, nor is it something to ignore. Your physical and mental health, success work and ease in relationships are at risk when you’re sleep deprived. If you want to get on track for adequate, quality sleep, contact The Clinic today and let us help you get your sleep back.
The Clinic is a team of mental health professionals that offer patients a variety of mental health and behavioral medicine services, including sleep improvement programs. The Clinic is one of only 300 clinics in the US to employ board certified providers in behavioral sleep medicine.