The most important thing for good health is consistent high quality sleep. Without proper sleep, it is hard to process new information, focus on your priorities and make good decisions in your life. Lack of sleep increases impulsivity, hunger and cravings.
Sleep deprivation can also affect your mood, leading to irritability, problems with relationships, depression and anxiety. It can affect your physical health. Research shows that not getting enough sleep, or getting poor-quality sleep, increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, sleep deprivation magnifies the effect of alcohol consumption. A tired person will be significantly more impaired than a well-rested person.
The National Sleep Foundation survey discovered that 45% of Americans get insufficient sleep and it impacts their lives at least once per week. Losing an hour of sleep may cause you to eat roughly 200 more calories the next day, primarily from fat- and carbohydrate-heavy foods. Exercise endurance falters by ~11% after inadequate sleep, so your workout will likely be sluggish if you can still motivate to do it. Because it is more difficult to focus, work or school performance suffers from cyber-loafing / wasting time online. The estimated loss of United States workforce productivity from sleep deficiency is over $40 billion / year.
Some people think that adults need less sleep as they age. But there is no evidence to show that older adults can get by with less sleep than people who are younger.
The National Institutes of Health average recommendations for sleep are
- Newborns: 16-18 hours a day
- Preschool-aged children: 11-12 hours a day
- Elementary school-aged children: At least 10 hours a day
- Teens: 9-10 hours a day
- Adults (including older adults): 7-8 hours a day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults under 65 need 7-9 hours of sleep. Genetically, some adults need less sleep and 4-6 hours can be normal for them.
There are five stages of sleep. In each stage your brain waves, breathing, heart rate and temperature are different. Proper sleep allows you to:
- Learn, gather insights and form memories.
- Replenish your energy.
- Regenerate your cells.
- Rest, strengthen and heal your muscles and tissues. For youth, sleep enables bone growth.
- Avoid and recover from illness by creating hormones that boost the immune system.
To improve your sleep quality, establish a regular bedtime and waking time. Through studies of circadian rhythms, it turns out that the cells of your body keep their own time. They anticipate daily actions and prepare for them. By keeping a consistent schedule, they are more effective in their tasks. If dramatically changing your sleep patterns seems difficult, try going to bed 15 minutes earlier and gradually working your way towards an optimal bedtime.
Other tips for quality sleep include:
- Avoid bright lights, computers and television for one hour before bedtime.
- Set up your bedroom to make it dark with a temperature where you sleep well.
- Keep phones, pets and kids from disturbing you. You can get an automatic pet feeder for 5am feedings.
- Avoid food after 7pm.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bed. Caffeine has a half-life of 4-6 hours so if you consume 200mg, then in ~5 hours you have ~100mg still impacting you.
- Drink enough water during the day, but avoid beverages within two hours of bedtime to avoid needing to pee during the night.
- Exercise outside for at least 20 minutes per day. Daily sunlight helps nightly sleep.
- If you are prone to watching late night TV, break that habit and instead just watch a recording the next day.
- If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something like reading until you are tired again.
To measure the quality of your sleep and encourage you to follow a consistent healthy sleep routine, Keep Health recommends buying a sleep and fitness tracking device or app. Good options include the:
- Fitbit Watch or Trackers (~$130 plus $10 / month for premium health tracking.)
- Apple Watch using an evening charging plan (~$199 to $399)
- Sleep Apps like SleepScore and SleepCycle (~$6/month or $50/year)