If you’re like me, you value sleep. Even on vacation I still go to bed earlier than my friends, but I haven’t always felt this way. Afflicted by the same hubris as my peers at the time, I would stay up late with friends until 3 or 4 in the morning then turn around and wake up at 6 a.m. for work, sometimes even pulling all-nighters. As you may suspect, this was not without consequence. I was exhausted and groggy for days after because I was depriving my body of something it desperately needed to function: sleep.
While we are sleeping, our body is able to perform maintenance on many systems in our body, including those that control our memory, hormones, immune system, and other critical functions. Sleep improves the brain’s ability to learn, helps the body fight infection, allows your heart to rest, and can even lower blood pressure. Conversely, not getting enough sleep can have a negative impact on all these areas plus more. So to say the least, sleep is very important. But how much sleep do we actually need?
Simply put, when you wake up feeling well rested, you’ve likely gotten enough sleep. This amount of sleep actually varies from person to person. Generally speaking, adults should get 7-8 hours, children should get 9-13, and infants need 12-15 hours of sleep. Many claim that they can function on significantly less sleep, but there is currently no evidence that the body can adapt to chronically restricted sleep patterns. The body is unable to functionally adapt to sleep deprivation. If you are someone who regularly exercises, you may even need more than the recommended minimum to give your body the time to regenerate from the additional physical stress.
Here are practical steps that can help us get a good night’s sleep.
During Your Day
- Get regular exposure to sunlight. Try for at least 30 minutes a day, preferably in the morning.
- Avoid nicotine and caffeine. Both are stimulants that can keep you up.
- If you nap, try to avoid taking one within 6 hours of your bedtime.
- Try to get your workouts in at least 2-3 hours before it’s time to go to sleep.
- Stay away from large meals and a lot of liquids within a few hours of bed.
Winding Down for Bed
- Alcohol can decrease the quality of your sleep.
- Dim the lights in the evening. It will help your body know it’s time for sleep.
- Relax before getting in bed. Make a bedtime ritual of reading, listening to music, or journaling.
- Avoid using electronic devices 30 minutes prior to heading off to bed.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark.
- Try to keep electronic and other distractions out of the bedroom.
- Don’t lie in bed awake. If you’re up for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until you feel like you’re ready to sleep.
These are just a few suggestions, but ultimately it comes down to what works for everyone individually. If sleep issues become chronic, it may be a good idea to consult a doctor. Sleep is important for all us. So the next time you’re tempted to hang out late with friends or stay up through the wee hours of the night to watch the latest show on TV, consider all the good sleep does for you. When in doubt, just sleep on it. Your body will thank you in the morning.