How many hours of sleep do you get each night? I try to get at least 7 hours on the weekdays, but there are times when I prioritize my to-do list over my slumber. Last month we shared a guest post from Dr. Sult with 8 important reasons to get enough sleep. Today, he explains why it’s so important to treat sleep as a priority for your wellbeing.
Dr. Tom Sult is board-certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He practices functional medicine and strives to find the fundamental cause of health issues. Dr. Sult is also an inspirational speaker and author of Just Be Well: A Book For Seekers of Vibrant Health. For more information about Tom and the Just Be Well Movement.
What Kind of Sleep Do You Need?
Although we have guidelines on the amount of sleep we need (seven to eight hours for adults, nine hours for teens, and ten hours for school-aged children), some experts say there is no magic number that determines every individual’s needs.
What’s more important, they say, is the kind of the sleep we get. The Sleep Foundation says to focus on basal sleep need and sleep debt. Basal sleep need is the amount needed for optimal performance. When we don’t get enough sleep regularly, we create a sleep debt. Over time, this debt leads to increased risks of illnesses.
What Happens While You Sleep?
Researchers used to think that when we slept, both the brain and the body were inactive. Now we know better. When we sleep, we go through four to five sleep cycles, each lasting about 90 minutes. Each cycle contains four phases: three phases of non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and one phase of Rapid Eye Movement (REM). During these phases, the brain is active even as the body rests. As a result, body temperature decreases, conserving energy. Heart rate and blood pressure decrease and the body releases growth hormones that help repair cells throughout the body.
Recovering from Your Sleep Debt
At some point, we all have to make do without enough sleep. A sick child, a last-minute report, or a nightmare can all cause us to borrow from our sleep time for a night or two. But the key to avoiding long-term health risks from a continued sleep deficit is to intentionally repay that debt as soon as possible.
First, make it easy to fall and stay asleep:
- Keep your bedroom reserved only for sleep or sex. This simple fix helps you psychologically associate your bedroom as a restful place, and not a place for work or stress.
- Note the temperature of your bedroom. Too high, and it may be difficult to fall asleep. Too low, and you’ll wake up cold. Experts suggest keeping your room cool, particularly for falling asleep, but keep it comfortable as your body temperature drops during sleep.
- Keep the computers, tablets, phones and other electronics in another room. Studies indicate that nighttime exposure to the artificial light from these devices interrupts the production of melatonin, a hormone that is produced when it is dark, and helps regulate and encourage sleep.
- Avoid caffeine later in the day. It takes six hours for half of caffeine’s stimulating effects to be eliminated, so that afternoon cup of java can have long-lasting effects on the quality of sleep.
- Avoid alcohol late in the day. Although alcohol may help people fall asleep more quickly and deeply, it decreases REM sleep, particularly during the later part of the night. So while people may drop off to sleep quickly, they’ll also wake up or feel restless during the night.
- Get regular exercise. Some experts suggest exercising at least three hours before bedtime to allow your temperature, which elevates during exertion, to fall in preparation for sleep. Others, however, say that unless you have a sleep disorder, that exercising at any time is better for sleep than not exercising at all. A Sleep Foundation survey comparing exercisers and non-exercisers found that more active people reported sleeping better than those who were inactive.
Second, The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep offers the following tips on recovering missed sleep:
- If you missed 10 hours over a week, add three or four extra sleep hours on the weekend, then one or two each night the following week until you’re caught up.
- If you have a chronic sleep debt, it may take several weeks to recoup the damage. Plan a vacation with a light agenda. Go to bed at a regular time, but don’t set an alarm to get up; just wake naturally. You may sleep long hours initially, but eventually, that will regulate as you recover.
For a multitude of reasons, sleep is essential for your health. Instead of treating it like a nice-to-have, treat sleep as a priority for your wellbeing.
If you’re still having problems getting or staying asleep, you may want to consult with your doctor for a diagnosis and additional options to help you get a good night’s sleep.
This is the second in a series of two guest posts about sleep from Dr. Sult. To see this article as it appears on the Whole9 Life website, click here.
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