Remember the last time you woke up refreshed and alert? That feeling is one way you can see the impact sleep has on your health and your quality of life.
But not getting enough sleep doesn’t just make you more tired and cranky. It can also have a negative impact on your health.
For sleep to do its job right, both the amount and quality you get are vital, says the National Sleep Foundation. The number of hours you need varies by age. Teens, for example, need at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep to refresh their bodies and minds.
Why Do You Need the Right Amount of Sleep?
What happens if sleep is cut short? The body needs sleep to perform many important functions. For example, while you’re sleeping, your body fixes muscles, consolidates memory and regulates the hormones that control growth and hunger.
If you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t have time to do those things properly. That’s why someone who doesn’t get enough sleep may struggle to think clearly and make good choices.
Research also shows that not getting enough sleep can raise your risk for serious health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. That same lack of sleep also plays a role in how well you recover from those and other health problems.
Sleep is also important to good mental health. It’s a factor in how well we deal with issues like stress, depression and seasonal affective disorder. Sleep disruptions are both symptoms and contributing factors for those issues.
What’s Keeping You Up at Night?
Roughly 3 out of 5 Americans say something keeps them awake at night. Their search for a fix leads them to spend up to $24 billion each year on products like sleeping pills, special pillows, mattresses and white noise machines.
These are some of the tips experts offer to help you get the shut-eye you need:
- Plan on seven to nine uninterrupted hours of sleep.
- Go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day.
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool.
- Exercise. But work out during the day, not at bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine.
Your favorite gadget may also be to blame. Using digital tools such as mobile phones, e-readers, tablets, laptops and other devices before you go to bed could affect the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Why does this happen? A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that devices that give off light may shift the body’s circadian rhythms and the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. That’s why you should avoid light-emitting devices for at least an hour before bedtime. Consider reading a printed book or a newspaper instead.
What About Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone your body releases during the early evening and the first hours of your sleep period. Some people find a melatonin supplement makes them sleepy, but there are some concerns about its long-term use. You should discuss this and other sleep issues with your doctor.
Find Out More
If you’re regularly struggling to get more sleep, it may be time to talk to your doctor about it. There may be a cause for it that needs to be treated.
Many people suffer from sleep apnea, a condition where breathing briefly stops during sleep. Caused by a blocking of the airway, these pauses may occur several times each hour, and they prevent enough air from reaching the lungs.
Others suffer from insomnia, a common sleep health problem that can have many different causes. Talk to your doctor if you have insomnia for more than a few weeks.
Get the help you need.
Getting enough sleep is one of the best things you can do for your health. If you continue to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, talk to your doctor. You may have a treatable sleep disorder or a health issue that is causing sleep problems.
Sources: Your Guide to Healthy Sleep, National Institutes of Health, 2011; Why Sleep Matters, Harvard Medical School; Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), Mayo Clinic, 2017; In the U.S., 40 percent get less than the sleep they need, Gallup Poll, 2013; Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; 10 Alternatives to CPAP for Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea, University of Michigan Health, Aug. 22, 2017; Ask the Experts, Berkeley Wellness, University of California, Berkeley, 2012