Sleeping is a lot harder than it used to be. There is so much to be done, with countless distractions. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Unfortunately, people often make time for other activities by cutting back on sleep. That decision can have negative effects on your health and wellbeing, says Montefiore Nyack Hospital sleep medicine specialist Anita Bhola, M.D.
“Sleep is the time when repair and restoration of the body and brain take place,” Dr. Bhola said. Adults require at least seven hours of sleep per day to promote optimal mental and physical health, while teens need 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours. Younger children need as much as 10 hours.
She notes there is a culture of “sleep machoism” in the corporate world. “You are thought to be less productive if you get a full night’s sleep,” Dr. Bhola said. “The reality is that lack of sleep, by affecting memory, concentration, and clarity of thought, also impacts performance and success.” She notes sleep deprivation has even been linked to “cyberloafing,” when employees spend more time than normal surfing the Web for content unrelated to their work.
For children and teens, sleep promotes learning, memory, brain development and mental and physical health (including growth in children). “Teens are often the most sleep deprived of all age groups as their schedules are packed, their biological clocks are delayed, they have terrible sleep habits and they have early school start times,” Dr. Bhola said. “That means their academic performance can suffer.” She noted that sleep deprivation in teens can be associated with learning issues, behavioral issues such as impulsivity, mental health problems, increased use of stimulants, and a higher rate of addiction and substance abuse.
Recurring sleep deprivation can have a serious effect on your health, Dr. Bhola said. Chronic lack of sleep contributes to many chronic health conditions that include diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity. Not getting enough sleep also can affect a person’s mood, leading to irritability; anxiety, problems with relationships, loneliness, and depression.
How to Get Enough Sleep
Dr. Bhola recommends:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Establish a nighttime routine to help your body settle down for the night. Choose relaxing activities, such as reading a book (not related to work) or taking a warm bath.
- Sleep in a cool, quiet, dark room, on a comfortable, supportive mattress.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid nicotine and alcohol late in the day.
- Manage stress about what tomorrow will bring by writing a ‘to-do’ list before you go to bed.
- Do some light stretching, deep breathing, yoga or meditation before bedtime.
- Try to get away from screens an hour or two before bed.
Dr. Bhola notes you can use technology to improve your sleep. Some wearable fitness trackers will track your sleep. You can download apps that lull you into sleep with mindfulness and meditation. Other apps let you set an exact time for rising, and allow you to select which days you want your alarm to go off. Choose how many hours you want to sleep, and the app will tell you when to head to bed to wake up on time.