Are You Sleep Deprived?

Woman yawningAccording to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s research more than 1/3 of Americans fail to meet the recommended minimum hours of sleep per night.  And, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 1 in 5 adults are sleep deprived.

As with most things, the amount of sleep you need varies.  The average number of hours an adult needs for sleeping is between 7 – 9 hours a night.  Teenagers need an average of 9 hours and children need 9 hours of sleep or more depending on their age.

Of course, lifestyle and occupations can influence how much sleep you need.  As an example, studies have shown that athletes perform with better with 10 hours of sleep per night.  While others swear by 12 hours to maximize recovery.  Of course there are those of us who report being able to perform on only 5 hours.

Here is one suggestion to determine your ideal sleep scenario.  Go to bed when you feel sleepy (can fall asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed) and sleep until you wake naturally.  If you sleep soundly and don’t feel tired or groggy during the day, you’ve hit on your ideal sleep timing and duration.  Keep in mind that each person’s baseline is different and you might need more sleep than others to perform at your best both physically and mentally.

It’s important to know that not getting enough sleep has been linked to some major health risks.  Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to High Blood Pressure, Heart attacks, Obesity and Diabetes.

Sleep deprivation is also shown to negatively affect daily activities.   Not getting enough sleep has contributed to slower reaction times, contributes to lack of energy and lack of concentration, it reduces your ability to concentrate which leads to increased errors, and forgetfulness.

And if you’re trying to lose weight, not getting enough sleep can be a huge deterrent to reaching your goals.

Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology followed over 68,000 women for 16 years and found that women who slept fewer than 6 hours per night had a 43% higher risk of gaining significant amounts of weight (33 lbs or more) than those who slept seven hours per night.

This may be due to a couple of things;

1)     Sleep regulates hormones.  Your levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) are higher when you’re exhausted.  Being sleep deprived puts your body into a stressed state.  So your body feels like it needs to hold on to more calories to survive.  So, while 1 or 2 sleepless nights won’t throw your hormones out of whack, spending fewer than 6 hours per night sleeping can trigger hormonal changes that may lead to weight gain.

2)     Lack of sleep affects willpower.  Exhaustion diminishes your willpower which impacts your judgement.  This makes resisting those cravings much harder.  One sleep study showed that those with a lack of sleep consumed an extra 385 calories per day.

So here are some tips for getting a better nights sleep;

1)     Exercise daily.  Whether its going for a walk or doing a full routine in a gym, exercise is a great way to relieve stress, keep our bodies healthy and can lead to a better nights sleep.  Just don’t do it too close to bedtime.

2)     Disconnect.  Turn off your smart phone, TV and computer in the evening.  Images and blue light from these devices stimulate the brain instead of helping it to relax.

3)     Limit the caffeine, nicotine and fluid intake.  Switch to decaf or limit your caffeine and alcohol intake during the evening hours.  Studies suggest not ingesting caffeine or alcohol at least 3-4 hours before going to bed makes for a more restful sleep.

4)     Turn down the temperature.  Set your thermostat to a few degrees cooler in the evening.  A cool, dark sleeping environment will promote the best sleeping environment.

5)     Stick to a sleep schedule.  A consistent sleep routine is one of the most important habits you can establish.  Whether it’s a weekday, weekend or holiday, try keeping the timing and the amount of sleep the same.

6)     White noise.  Use a fan or fall asleep listening to nature or relaxation sounds.  Both will decrease bothersome noises and promote better sleep.

7)     Track your sleep.  Using a wearable device to track your sleep will illustrate your sleep quantity and provide the number of times you wake each night.  This information will help you determine if improvements are necessary.

The bottom line is like many things in health, there’s no one answer to how much sleep you should be getting.  If you’re not sure whether you’re getting adequate sleep, pay attention to how you feel when you wake up.  You should feel refreshed.  If you can’t seem to get enough sleep, no matter how much time you spend in bed, check with your healthcare provider.  It may be a disorder is interfering with your sleep quality, triggering you to spend more time in bed.