The CDC reports that more than a third of U.S. adults is sleep deprived and it’s a statistic that doesn’t bode well for the state of national health. Sleep deprivation (less than 7 hours a day for adults aged 18–60) has been attributed to an increased risk of developing these serious and chronic conditions:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- various psychiatric disorders (e.g., depression and anxiety)
Whatever your age or health status, it is never too late to invest in rest. Here are a few tips to begin paying off that sleep debt.
Where Do You Rank?
Let’s explore your overall degree of sleepiness. Using the Stanford Sleepiness Scale, how would you rate your degree of sleepiness at this precise moment on a scale of 1 to 7? How would you rate it at any given time throughout the week?
- You feel active, alert, or wide awake
- You’re functioning at high levels, but not fully alert
- You’re awake and responsive, but relaxed, not fully alert
- You feel a bit foggy; it’s getting harder to focus
- You’re foggy, slowing down, and losing interesting in staying awake
- You’re fighting sleep, longing to lie down
- You’re in and out of consciousness, having dream-like thoughts, and no longer fighting to stay awake
For all the hours you’re awake—especially at peak hours of the day—you would ideally rate yourself between 1 and 2. Anything between 4 and 7 is an indicator of sleep deprivation, but to really hone in on your typical hours of alertness, record your rating at different times of the day for one week. Adjust your sleep schedule accordingly and see how many 1s and 2s you can collect during your most critical windows of time.
Sleep Cycles and Your Mood
Maintaining a healthy sleep cycle is as important as keeping a balanced diet in delivering the energy you need to get through a full day of tasks. When your sleep cycle is off, your productivity and mood (and consequently your relationships) will start to suffer.
According to Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and the Medical Director of Sleep Health Centers, “there’s a big relationship between psychiatric and psychological problems and sleep. So people who are depressed or have anxiety often have trouble with sleep as part of those disorders.”
Related research has found that:
- subjects limited to just 4.5 hours of sleep per day reported an increase in feelings of anger, sadness, stress, and mental exhaustion
- 15–20% of people diagnosed with insomnia are also chronically depressed
- insomniacs are 20 times more likely to develop a panic disorder and 5 times more likely to develop depression
Tips for Revamping Your Sleep Schedule
The thing to remember about sleep is that quality beats out quantity every time. Your goal should be to arrive at and maintain the later stages of the sleep cycle in which “restorative sleep” occurs. The rapid eye movement (REM) stage falls into this window.
In addition to being the period of time in which dreaming occurs, restorative sleep is associated with stabilized glucose, testosterone, and human growth hormone levels, cellular regeneration, cognitive restoration, and memory allocation and retention. The first thing, before you start building healthy sleeping habits, is to determine how much sleep you need. A lot of people find it easier to determine using a sleep calculator how many hours sleep they need.
Follow these tips to claim your share of restorative sleep every night:
- Prioritize sleep. A to-do list that doesn’t pencil in sleep is incomplete.
- Stick to your established schedule even on weekends.
- Exercise regularly, though not before bed.
- Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. Before too long, your body will respond to the signals you’ve set to prepare it for sleep: relaxing music, soothing scents, calming bathroom regimen, ambient noise machines, etc.
- Moderate and monitor your substance intake (alcohol and caffeine).
- Don’t keep a television in your bedroom. It’s never a good idea to over-stimulate your eyes with electronics before bed.
- Finally, keep a dream journal. Having paper and pencil near the bed also allows you to jot down any thoughts or concerns that are keeping you awake, allowing you to let it go until the morning.
Tired yet? Treat yourself and try these tips tonight for a full night’s rest. For chronic sleep conditions, don’t hesitate to consult a professional.