Great sleeping patterns are absolutely essential for maintaining a healthy body, a healthy mind, and a health spirit. Yes, you need 7.5 – 9 hours of shut eye a night, but you also need good quality sleep, otherwise you will not feel refreshed.
“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop” Ovid
Some people will say that they can get by on 3 or so hours a night. This might even be sign of manic behavior (along with a number of other characteristics, please look up this condition, or see a professional if you think you might have this condition). But even for those that say they only need 5-6 hours, often they are not being honest with themselves. They are just propping themselves up with coffee or other stimulants and some time soon their bodies will collapse or they will fall ill. Everyone needs time for their minds and bodies to regenerate and integrate what has happened to them during the day.
What does the research show?
Research* by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard and her colleagues at the University of Rochester has found that the brain has a drainage system that removes toxins. She found that in mice the brain’s drainage system removes some of the proteins linked with Alzheimer’s disease and that these toxins were removed twice as fast during sleep. So by not sleeping enough, you could be interfering with your body’s toxin removal system.
You will know when you are getting enough rest if you can make it through a number of consecutive days without feeling tired or drowsy and without the need for caffeine or other stimulants. Although you might think you are being more productive by skipping some sleep, you are really just fooling yourself and you are doing harm to yourself especially in the long term. And it’s been shown that overall creativity and productivity are reduced when you aren’t fully rested.
Studies have also shown that people who sleep enough are happier and live longer. And we all know that often when we try and do work late at night that we spend more time correcting mistakes than being productive. So go to bed and close your eyes. It’s normal. It’s natural. And it is something we all need to do.
“If you can’t fall asleep, just try harder.” This just makes you more anxious.
“Sleeping pills will solve the problem.” Pills just treat the symptoms and they don’t solve the problem itself. They also create negative side effects, prevent us experiencing deep sleep cycles and decrease our ability to sleep naturally in the long term.
“Snoring is not a problem.” If it is a recurring and consistent issue, it can indicate sleep apnea and create oxygen deprivation to the brain.
“I can catch up on my sleep over the weekends.” You can’t catch up, your body doesn’t work like that, nor does your brain. It feels good because you’re getting much needed sleep, but it doesn’t mean you’ve caught up. Dr. Kenneth Wright, Jr., a researcher at the University of Colorado and his colleagues found* that people who got to sleep in on the weekend were no better off than people with consistently deficient sleep. Both gained weight with lack of sleep and their ability to control blood sugar levels deteriorated.
“Sleep problems are just about falling asleep.” However, these problems could be about waking up in the middle of the night or waking up early.
“The older you get, the less sleep you need.” Not true. You still need 7.5 – 9 hours of quality sleep. You might be getting lower quality sleep, which actually means requiring more restful hours.
“When your body is asleep, your brain is sleeping.” This is not true because your brain goes through cycles of varying activity throughout sleep. And as we mentioned earlier, the brain is busy removing toxins from the body while we sleep.
“To function best, you need to get eight hours of sleep.” Everyone’s needs are different. Some people need 7.5 hours. Some need 9 hours. If you feel rested and aren’t half-asleep for a few consecutive days without using any caffeine or stimulants, then you’re getting sufficient sleep. If you sleep for more than 9 hours and still don’t feel rested, it could be caused by a medical issue. You should consult a doctor.
“Some people function perfectly on four hours of sleep.” It’s likely that some people simply aren’t aware of the negative effects and are able to block out the feeling of tiredness that comes from sleep deprivation. Too little sleep can have serious long-term negative consequences. Examples include ineffectiveness, poor judgment and the inability to pay attention. Insufficient sleep can lead to illness by weakening your immune system and it can cause you to be overweight. Getting too much sleep causes problems like an increased risk of heart disease and death.
What can I do to improve my sleep?
Here are some tips that you might what to consider in changing your routine so that you are getting the rest you need and desire. Things you can do to maximize the quality of your sleep:
- Make your bedroom conducive to sleep: Transform your bedroom into a haven of comfort. Create a room that is dark, quiet, comfortable and relatively cool for the best possible sleep. Make sure it has good air quality (e.g. use a humidifier if necessary) and that your mattress is in good condition.
- Keep your bedroom only for sleep: You should not use your bedroom for watching TV, reading, working or doing anything but sleeping. You need to break the connection, the association between your bed and any other activity. You should only associate your bedroom with sleep.
- Develop rituals: It is important to give your body cues that it is time to slow down. Focus on relaxing physically and clearing your mind to let yourself get better rest. Listen to relaxing music, read something soothing for 15 minutes, have a cup of caffeine free tea, or do relaxation exercises to reduce your stress level.
- Get on a regular schedule: This can improve the quality of your sleep by keeping your sleep phases consistent. Allow enough time in your schedule for adequate sleep. Most adults need between 7.5 – 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Wind down the day in order to slow brain activity and calm the body in preparation for sleep. A good circadian rhythm time for your brain to get enough deep rest is around 10 pm. If you go to bed later than this, you will find it harder to settle down. Try to go to bed at the same time each day and to get up at the same time even on weekends. Initially you may need to set an alarm to get yourself used to your new wake up time. Even if you haven’t gotten to bed early enough, by getting up at the new time, you will find that you start to feel tired earlier and this will make it easier for you to get used to going to bed earlier.
- Exercise: Regular exercise will give you deeper, more restful sleep because your body needs physical exertion. Have a good workout 3 – 4 times a week. Connect to being in your own body every day. Finish workouts 3 – 5 hours before bedtime.
- Write out what’s on your mind: Freewriting / journaling can help you to clear your mind of your worries so you can then sleep. You may also like to write to do lists so you don’t have to remember and worry about tomorrow’s tasks. Instead you can release them and let go of the day.
- If necessary, try herbal supplements: You might try taking melatonin for a few days. But it should not be used on a regular basis or your body will lose its own natural ability to create melatonin. Or you could try amino acids such as 5-HTP or L-tryptophan. Or the hormone DHEA. Some people find that supplements such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin B, kava kava, skullcap, chamomile, or valerian root can help. But realize that there are many supplements that might or might not work for you and they might have side effects. Research and experiment with what might work for you. Also be aware that the other medications you are on, might also be affecting the quality of your sleep, or might not react well with some supplements. Be careful, but fully explore your options.
- Use sleeping pills only as a last resort: Long term use of medications (both prescribed and over the counter) actually reduces your ability to sleep naturally. They also prevent your mind from experiencing the deep sleep cycles that it needs to be fully refreshed. So they should only be used as a last resort and they should only be used temporarily. Check with your doctor before taking any sleep medications. He or she can make sure the pills won’t interact with your other medications or with an existing medical condition. Your doctor can also help you determine the best dosage. If you do take a medication, reduce the dosage gradually when you want to quit, and never mix alcohol and sleeping pills. If you feel sleepy or dizzy during the day, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or discontinuing the pills.
Talk to your therapist about your routine
Talk to your therapist or psychiatrist about your daily routine and how sleep fits into it. He or she may have some suggestions for things you can change in order to improve your sleep based on your medical history.