Most of us know that getting enough sleep is important to our overall health. Without enough sleep we are left feeling fatigued and confused. Mistakes come easily. If lack of sleep goes on for long enough it can even contribute to physical diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Getting enough sleep is harder than it sounds. Even if we go to bed at a reasonable hour, stimulants can keep us awake and regularly intrude with our circadian cycle. Stimulants can range from the caffeine in our drinks to the light emitted by our screens, burning away the melatonin we need to get to sleep.
Sleep in the HIV population is the area of research for my post doctoral fellowship. I have spent countless hours researching sleep related studies, and in doing so I have learned a lot about our needs for adequate sleep. Here are my thoughts on why it’s important, and what you can do to sleep better.
There’s no such thing as “Catching up over the weekend”
Up early day after day to meet deadlines? No problem. You’ll make up for it by sleeping late on the weekend. This faulty way of thinking treats sleep like money in the bank. As long as you get your hours in, your sleep account is balanced, right?
Unfortunately sleep doesn’t quite work like that. A recent study at Harvard University found that even if you sleep an additional 10 hours to make up for a long period of 6 hours or less of sleep, you performed worse than someone who’d gone through complete sleep deprivation.
Instead of catching up later, you need to make sleep your priority.
Tips for Getting Enough Sleep
The day I could put away my alarm clock for good and sleep naturally was the best day of my life. Not everyone has this opportunity. Alarm clocks disturb our sleep and often interrupt our sleep cycles, making it even more difficult to feel rested when we wake up.
Combine this with our tendency to stay up late to finish one task or another, and the amount of sleep we get is even lesser. If you’re having trouble getting adequate sleep, have you considered setting an alarm for when to go to sleep?
Your phone probably already has a way for you to do this. The iPhone bedtime reminder is directly available where the clock is, and there are many apps available for Android as well. A reminder at 9PM to start winding down for bed can help you make changes for a healthy night’s sleep.
When you get that reminder an hour or so before bed, cut all screen use. This will help your brain produce enough melatonin to get to sleep. Instead, you can read a book or do some other quiet activity.
Cut all caffeine use much earlier in the day, about noon, so that there’s no lingering caffeine in your system to intrude on your sleep. Together, these things will help you get a good night’s sleep.
If you follow these tips and still have trouble sleeping, see a doctor. Many health conditions cause lack of sleep, and you may need a sleep study in order to help diagnose some of these problems and get you on track for a restful night’s sleep.
How Much Sleep do we Need?
How much sleep you need is unique to each individual. If you can’t get through a day without feeling exhausted, or you have to float on caffeine to get yourself through the day, chances are you’re not getting enough sleep. An adult typically needs 8 hours, but if you’re awake in 7 hours and have energy throughout the day, then that’s likely to be adequate enough for you.
It’s very important to take your sleep seriously. Studies have shown that if you get less than 8 hours of sleep every night, your rate of mortality (from a variety of different causes) increases. Adequate sleep isn’t just critical to good health and wellbeing. It’s also critical for survival.
Rest up so you have the energy to enjoy life, and make the most out of this beautiful world.
“When you own your own breath, nobody can steal your peace”.
Cheers! Monique Stephanie