Every day we make a conscious effort to “check all the boxes” for good health. Checking the box “Get Adequate Sleep” is not always on the radar. Yet getting a good night’s sleep each night is just as important as the other boxes checked as part of a healthy lifestyle. Inadequate or poor quality sleep affects how we function both physically and mentally.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends we get a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. More than one third of all adults don’t reach the minimum amount according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [i]
Lack of Sleep Affects Our Health in Ways We May Not Be Aware Of
- Lack of sleep can contribute overweight, particularly in children, by affecting the part of our brain that regulates our appetite and the expenditure of energy.[ii]
- It can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and disrupt blood sugar control.[iii]
- Our blood pressure drops during sleep. Getting less sleep means our blood pressure stays higher for a longer period of time which can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.[iv]
- Problem solving skills and the ability to make sound decisions can be impaired as well as difficulty remembering things and controlling emotions according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
- Difficulty learning, focusing, and reacting can be a result of not enough sleep.
While asleep, our brain is working like a central command center, repairing and resetting our body and brain.
Two Different Types of Sleep – REM (rapid eye movement) and Non-REM
As we fall asleep, non-REM sleep begins. Our breathing and heart rates slow down, body temperature drops, and muscles relax. As we fall into a deeper sleep, our heart and breathing rates drop further, as do our brain waves.
During non-REM sleep, physical repairs are taking place. Hormones are released that build muscles and bones, strengthen our immune system, and tissue is repaired and regenerated. At the same time, the brain is busy consolidating facts, experiences, and knowledge gathered during the day.
Later sleep moves into the REM stage of sleep. Our eyes move quickly from side to side. Brain activity increases, and we experience dreams. So that we don’t act out our dreams, our muscles become temporary paralyzed. Heart rate and blood pressure increases. Our body continues to repair and rebuild cells as well as build bones and muscles. The brain processes and stores emotions and emotional memories. It keeps what is important and removes things that are not as important. Metabolic waste and toxins in the brain are removed.
Non-REM and REM sleep cycles repeat themselves 3-5 times per night.
Lack of Sleep Contributes to Cardiovascular Disease
A study published in November 2021 in the European Heart Journal – Digital Health found what time we go to bed has an impact on our health. Between 2006-2010, 88,026 individuals were followed. A follow up averaging 5.7 years later found 3,172 people had developed cardiovascular disease. Those who fell asleep after midnight had a 25% higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and those falling asleep between 11:00 PM -12:00 AM had a 12% greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Participants who went to sleep between 10:00-11:00 PM had the lowest rate of cardiovascular disease. The study suggests later bedtimes might disrupt our body’s circadian
rhythm – our body’s 24 hour clock that tells us when to be alert and when to rest.
With all this activity, one would think we would be exhausted when we wake up. But the exact opposite is true. When we get adequate and restorative sleep, we will wake up refreshed and ready to take on a new day.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults age 65 years and older need 7-8 hours sleep, adults 26-64 years need 7-9 hours, young adults 8-25 years old need 7-9 hours, teens 14-17 need 8-10 hours, school-age children 6-13 years need 9-11 hours, preschoolers 3-5 years need 10-13 hours, toddlers 1-2 years need 11-14 hours, infants 4-11 months need 12-15 hours, and newborns 0-3 months need 14-17 hours of sleep a night.
To Get a Restful Night’s Sleep, Follow These Tips:
- Have a consistent time you go to bed and get up each day.
- Prepare for sleep about an hour ahead of time. Taking a bath, meditating, brushing your teeth, putting on your pajamas, or making a to-do list for the next day so it doesn’t keep you awake will signal the brain that you’re getting ready for sleep.
- Getting some physical activity during the day makes it easier to fall asleep at night.
- Keep distractions including your computer, TV, and phone out of the bedroom. Using these electronics before bedtime can disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleepiness.
- Studies have shown a correlation between the levels of light in a room and the amount of melatonin released. Brighter lights suppress the release of melatonin. Dimming the lights about an hour before bedtime will increase the amount of melatonin released and calms our body so we can fall asleep.[v]
- If you can’t get to sleep, get up and do something relaxing such as reading until you feel like you can fall asleep again.
- Two to three hours before bed avoid a heavy or large meal and refrain from alcohol and caffeine.
- If napping, do it earlier in the day and for no longer than 20 minutes.
As you can see, many critical biological functions occur during our sleep. Good quality sleep is essential for good health. Be sure the “Get Adequate Sleep” box is checked as part of your healthy living lifestyle.
[i] Liu Y, Wheaton AG, Chapman DP, Cunningham TJ, Lu H, Croft JB. Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration among Adults — United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:137–141. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6506a1
[ii] Taheri S. The link between short sleep duration and obesity: We should recommend more sleep to prevent obesity. Arch Dis Child 2006;91:881–884.
[iii] Knutson KL, Ryden AM, Mander VA, Van Cauter E. Role of sleep duration and quality in the risk and severity of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Arch Intern Med 2006;166:1768–1764.
[v] Joshua J. Gooley, Kyle Chamberlain, Kurt A. Smith, Sat Bir S. Khalsa, Shantha M. W. Rajaratnam, Eliza Van Reen, Jamie M. Zeitzer, Charles A. Czeisler, Steven W. Lockley, Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 3, 1 March 2011, Pages E463–E472, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2010-2098.