Ah, sleep. Rest assured, few things are better than the feeling of snuggling into your warm cozy bed for eight hours of blissful uninterrupted sleep. How do we know? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as many as one-third of Americans are regularly sleep deprived – but most of us can still remember what a good night’s sleep feels like!
Unfortunately, a good share of adults report trouble with sleeping at least once a week. And we’re not just talking about young adults that may be intentionally creeping home at bar time. Nope – it’s a widespread problem that only seems to get worse with age.
But just because you’re not alone in sleep deprivation, doesn’t mean that a chronic lack of sleep is okay. Occasionally, sure. We’ve all had days where we wake up feeling the effects of a lack of sleep – and it carries over into the way you feel and function the entire next day. But if this happens on a regular basis it’s time to make some changes.
As simplistic as it may sound, sleep is an important part of your overall health. In fact, the CDC reports that insufficient sleep can result in several chronic conditions, ranging from heart disease and diabetes to depression. And now research is showing that not getting enough sleep can cause weight gain and even obesity. If that’s not enough reason to rethink your sleep habits I don’t know what is!
So how much sleep do you really need? Well, adults should shoot for between seven and nine hours each night. Less than that can take a toll on your overall health and well-being. If you have trouble sleeping or find yourself chronically sleep deprived, you may:
- Feel fatigued and groggy
- Have a hard time making decisions
- Find it hard to process new information
- Have difficulty remembering old information
- Experience slower reflexes (be careful driving)
- And crave food to replace that lost energy
But why? Well, you may think of sleep as the time when your mind and body are turned off for the night. But nothing could be further from the truth. As soon as you fall asleep, your body gets to work. This is the time when it can repair, refresh and recharge without interruption. Sleep:
- Helps your body recover from the previous day
- Repairs damaged cells
- Enhances tissue growth
- Restores energy
- Releases hormones
- Rests and rejuvenates brain function
- Processes and stores memories
- Boosts your immunity
- Recharges your cardio system
And most of that takes place during the sleep cycle known as non-REM or non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which accounts for 75-80 percent of our total night’s sleep.
But the part that most of us remember is that other 20-25 percent – REM sleep. This is when we dream. Whether or not you believe in dream analysis or dream therapy (the idea that your dreams mean something specific and your psyche is trying to tell you something), dreams have an important role. Dreams:
- Process emotions
- Categorize memories
- Diffuse stress
- Stimulate learning
And speaking of sleep, don’t forget this weekend is the start of Daylight Savings – time to “spring forward.”At 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 13 (or before you go to bed), set your clock one hour ahead. The good news? It means one more hour of daylight on your way home from work or when you want to cook out!
The bad news? One less hour of sleep when your head hits the pillow Saturday night. Here are a few tips to help your body adjust:
- Don’t drink caffeine too close to bedtime (it may keep you awake longer)
- Do read before bed (it can make you sleepy)
- Don’t spend time on your computer, iPad or cell phone right before bed
There’s no need to worry about that one-time lost hour, but if you do find yourself chronically lacking sleep, be sure to tell your doctor.
In the meantime, sweet dreams. And happy spring.