There has been a recent trend in our society to under-sleep. Many people view it as “wasted” time. Being able to function on a small amount of sleep is equated with strength, courage, and productivity. However, research shows that good sleep is necessary for health on all levels: physical, mental, and emotional.

According to the CDC between a quarter and a half of Americans report sleeping less than 7 hours on any given night, although the great majority of adults need more sleep than that. Inadequate sleep leads to decreased productivity, increased mistakes, and accidents; this is true even though often individuals are unaware of the level of their functional impairment due to insufficient sleep. Inadequate sleep also leads to increased production of the stress hormone cortisol, which over time can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and diabetes, and other related diseases. In one study, people who slept for 4 hours 5 nights in a row consumed 300 extra calories during the day. (1) It impairs our immune system, so our risk of infection and cancer increases.

Inadequate sleep also is linked to dementia. A study showed that our brain clears waste products much more efficiently in our sleep, so if we don’t sleep enough all these toxic products accumulate in our brain causing mental fog and memory problems. (2)

There is no recognized objective test for how much sleep a person needs, but general sleep requirements are 7-9 hours per day for adults.

Everyone has a natural sleep cycle. But this sleep cycle can be disrupted easily. For example, blue light before attempting sleep, eating too many carbs right before sleep, not drinking enough, trying to sleep when it is too hot or too cold.

It is important for our sleep cycles that we have a relatively consistent sleep schedule. If you are having trouble maintaining your schedule, then here are a few tips: If you are having trouble staying awake until bedtime even though you believe you have been sleeping enough, then you could try to eat more carbs at dinner or you could try boosting your exercise in morning or afternoon; if you have trouble falling asleep at bedtime then you could shift carbs to earlier meals, avoid snacking and carb-rich dinners or eat an earlier dinner, avoid caffeinated drinks or foods. Also in that case you should avoid strenuous exercise late in the day. And avoid bright light near bedtime.

If you believe that you may have a sleep disorder then you should consult your doctor instead of trying to self-treat. Here are some examples of common sleep disorders:

  • Insomnia: difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, ongoing for at least 3 months and occurring at least three times a week.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: difficulty breathing or interrupted breathing during sleep, frequently associated with loud snoring, frequent waking, most commonly occurring in people who are overweight.
  • Restless leg syndrome: characterized by feeling an urge to move when one rests, can present as pain or tingling/numbness, movement helps to temporarily relieve the uncomfortable sensation.
  • Narcolepsy: sudden, uncontrollable onset of sleep

Most adults need to wake up to the importance of more sleep. Ideally you should sleep about the same amount each night and wake about the same time each morning without needing an alarm.

1. Spiegel et al. Leptin levels are dependent on sleep duration: relationships with sympathovagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol, and thyrotropin. J Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2004;89(11):5762-5771
2. Xie et al “Sleep initiated fluid flux drives metabolite clearance from adult brain” Science, October 18, 2013

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