Why is sleep so important? Chemicals released during sleep are crucial for repairing daily wear on the entire body including the brain. During sleep, your brain toxins are cleared out by a recently discovered system called the glymphatic system.
What happens when you get too little sleep? You may or may not feel sleepy during the day, but you may have trouble remembering things and even suffer permanent memory loss. It will be harder to think clearly, and sleep-deprived people are more likely to have car accidents or make life-threatening errors which may affect public safety. With less sleep, you’re more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Furthermore, sleep affects hormones that control your appetite, which may be the reason that the less you sleep, the more you are likely to weigh.
How much sleep do you need? According to the Centers for Disease Control, most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night for good health. Unfortunately, studies find that nearly 30% of adults get 6 or fewer hours of sleep daily, while less than a third of high school students get even 8 hours on a school night (teenagers should be getting 9 to 10 hours a night according to the CDC!)
How can you get more sleep? First, power off your phone! According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 90 percent of Americans regularly use a computer or electronic device of some kind in the hour before bed. Light from TV screens, computers and phones tend to lower levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our internal clocks and helps us fall asleep and stay asleep.
So power down at least 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Try to get at least a half-hour of quiet time without electronics before you go to bed. Instead of TV or Facebook, read a book (paper, not Kindle!) or if you are fortunate enough to have an available partner, spend the last half hour of your day involved in intimate conversation or activity. (That being said, avoid conversations if they are likely to be upsetting).
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, especially in the hours before bedtime. Alcohol also interrupts sleep – although it may seem a nighttime drink is a sleep aid, in fact most of us tend to wake up a few hours later as the alcohol wears off.
Be sure you get some natural light every day, and be sure you get some exercise. A walk once a day, even if you only have a few minutes, can help you sleep better that night.
If you find you sleep enough hours, but still don’t feel rested, the cause could be sleep apnea, which is caused by insufficient oxygen due to problems in your breathing while you sleep. The result is lighter, less restful sleep – and a greater risk of heart attack. Ask your doctor about a sleep study to determine if you have this common but very serious problem.
If you need further sleep support, including suggestions for sleep medications or natural supplements, talk with your doctor or psychiatrist. To consult a psychiatric practitioner at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley, see our Make An Appointment page. Or, consult a specialist in Sleep Medicine; try the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for listings.