Prioritize sleep - you need it

Get your best night’s sleep every night
15 feb. 2019 · Catherine Poslusny
Father and toddler enjoying the benefits of a good night's sleep

How often do you go to work and hear people talking about how little sleep they got the night before? Do you ever struggle to find a balance between productivity and self-care? As a society, we’ve stigmatized our basic human need for a good night’s sleep. 

“No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation,” says Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, in an interview with The Guardian. “It sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplace and our communities, our homes and families.”

Many colleges across the country, such as the University of California, Los Angeles, are working to combat the unhealthy rhetoric surrounding sleep patterns by offering Sleep 101 programs aimed at teaching students about the importance of sleep for their health, academic performance, and even their safety.

What sleep deprivation can do to your health

Chances are, you’ve probably heard a few differing opinions about how much sleep is enough. A good rule of thumb is 7 to 9 hours each night, though you may need to experiment to find the sleep schedule that works best for you. Settling into a regular sleeping pattern can be life-changing. So, the next time you’re debating whether to turn out the lights or go ahead and watch the next episode of your favorite TV show, consider the following points:
 
  • Sleep plays a crucial role in your overall health. There’s no getting around the fact that you need a certain amount of deep sleep each night to adequately perform even the most basic bodily functions. “If you’re chronically not getting enough sleep or not getting quality sleep, it can lead to obesity and metabolic problems like diabetes,” says sleep researcher Jeanne Duffy, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in an interview with the Harvard Gazette. Plus, your body needs a good night’s sleep for your immune system to function properly. A lack of quality sleep makes you more vulnerable to catching viruses and infections. 

  • Sleep deprivation can increase your risk for certain cancers. “After just one night of only 4 or 5 hours’ sleep, your natural killer cells – the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day – drop by 70%,” according to Walker, in his interview with The Guardian. He also says that a lack of sleep is linked to an increased risk of bowel, prostate, and breast cancers.

  • Your sleep patterns can seriously affect your heart health. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, it can increase inflammation in your body, a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke, according to a 2010 study published in Circulation, the American Heart Association journal. Making sure that you get a proper amount of restful sleep each night can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • A full night’s sleep is crucial for your mental well-being. A 2016 study published in BioMed Central Psychiatry found that “insomnia is significantly associated with an increased risk of depression” and suggested that treating insomnia may help prevent depression in some people. Additionally, a 2007 report from Harvard Medical School noted that people who are sleep-deprived have a more difficult time concentrating and learning new information than those who are well-rested.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

You may be on board with getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, but sometimes wanting to get enough sleep just isn’t enough. Whether you toss and turn for hours, or wake up during the night and simply can’t lull yourself back to sleep, here are some tips to help you get a good night’s sleep.

  • Schedule a non-negotiable 8-hour “sleep opportunity” at the same time each night, even on the weekends. This means going to sleep and waking up at the same time 7 days a week.
  • Turn off the lights. Your body needs darkness in the evenings to facilitate production of the hormone melatonin, an essential ingredient for a healthy sleep schedule. Try this: Dim half of the lights in your home and avoid looking at your phone, laptop, or television screen in the hour before you go to bed.
  • Keep your bedroom cool. According to Walker, 68 degrees is the optimal temperature for a good night’s sleep.
  • Stay away from alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol-induced sleep is often fragmented, and any amount of caffeine in your system can affect your quality of sleep.
  • Don’t let yourself stay in bed when you can’t fall asleep. Get up, go to a different dimly lit room, and read a book until you start feeling sleepy again. If you have trouble forcing yourself to leave the warm comfort of your bed in the middle of the night, try meditation to help you relax your body and mind enough to fall asleep. 

Next time you think that your ever-expanding to-do list means that you should go a night or two, or more, without a full 8 hours of sleep, think again. When you de-prioritize sleep, your overall happiness and well-being are sure to pay the price. Scheduling time every night for a full 7 to 9 hours in bed will allow you to tackle life’s challenges with an energy and vigor that you can only get from a good night’s sleep. 

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