We Americans are a busy bunch. We rush to get the kids to school, spend significant time commuting to work, put in long hours at the office or work site, try to get some errands or household chores done, and then perhaps try to squeeze in some time for TV or websurfing. Who has time to sleep?
In fact, the average American sleeps about 7 hours a night to accommodate the modern lifestyle. This is a drop of about 2 hours over the past few decades. Many try to get by on only 5-6 hours. Imagine how refreshed you would feel if you slept an extra 2 hours per night.
Lack of sleep makes us cranky and irritable, affects school and work performance, and puts us at risk for dozing off while driving. We might consider these to be short term problems, but sleep deprivation may have long term consequences. Trends in lack of sleep have paralleled the rising trend in obesity.
Dr. Eve Van Cauter and colleagues at the University of Chicago have conducted studies which show that lack of sleep makes us hungrier by affecting our hormones. These hormonal changes are associated with increased cravings for calorie dense food that is high in carbohydrates such as chips or cookies. Sleep-deprived individuals also have higher blood sugar levels and greater risk for diabetes.
How much sleep do you need? The amount of sleep needed varies by age and gender. Most of us probably need at least 8-9 hours of sleep. To determine how much sleep you need, go to bed at the same time each night for a week and try to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If at the end of that week you find yourself sleeping in on the weekend, you may need more than 8 hours per night and should try this experiment again by adding another hour of sleep each night. When you wake up spontaneously in the morning without needing your alarm clock or the snooze button and feel refreshed, then you know you have gotten enough sleep.
What keeps us from sleeping? Many people spend time watching television or using a computer, which may be relaxing but will not restore your body the way sleep will. One solution is to remove the television from the bedroom. Another is to limit television or computer time to one hour per day.
Sleep hygiene is also important. It helps to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. Limiting caffeine intake in the late afternoon and evening will also make it easier to fall asleep at night.
Getting a good night’s rest is critical not just for your presentation at work or your test at school the next morning. Sleep is essential to reducing your risk for becoming overweight and developing diabetes.