I was never one of those people who could stay up all night cramming for an exam. Heck, I couldn’t even stay up all night having fun! I’m not a morning person and I’m embarrassed to admit I’m not a night owl. I’m just sort of a middle-of-the-day kind of person. I felt guilty for years about this until I found out that these boring patterns are actually good for me.
Every person is different in the amount of sleep they need each night. We all know someone who brags about needing only 3-4 hours of sleep per night. Well, this may “work” for a while, but recent studies have shown how detrimental chronic sleep deprivation is to overall health. You should try to get somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night but the real measuring stick is that you should wake up feeling relatively refreshed in the morning. Not getting enough sleep causes all kinds of problems…
- Weight Gain: Not sleeping enough may cause weight gain by affecting the way your body processes and stores carbohydrates. It also makes you eat more by altering levels of hormones that affect your appetite.
- Impaired Driving: According to the National Commission of Sleep Disorders and the National Highway Safety Administration, each year there are over 100,000 crashes caused by people falling asleep while driving. This alone should motivate you to get more sleep.
- Less Powerful Immune System: When you’re tired, you simply can’t fight off the infections as effectively as you can when you’re rested. Researchers have even suggested that getting enough sleep helps fight cancer.
- Moodiness: We have all been here before. Admit it—you’re just cranky and super irritable when you don’t get enough sleep. You may say things you later regret, so choose your words carefully if you haven’t been sleeping well!
- Memory: Sleep improves your ability to concentrate and helps you retain the things you learn. If you are trying to master a new language, make sure you are sleeping well so you will remember how to conjugate that verb you just learned.
- Decision Making: Lack of sleep impairs your ability to quickly and effectively make decisions. This may be why so many people head to the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas after being up all night.
- Heart Health: Some serious sleep disorders have been associated with increased levels of cortisol (a hormone released during stress), hypertension and irregular heartbeat.
One of the most important things you can do to improve your sleep is to get regular exercise (you knew I was going to say this). Just don’t exercise too close to your bedtime as it will rev you up and you may have trouble falling asleep. Some other suggestions to help you sleep include avoiding nicotine, alcohol and caffeine in the evenings, not eating or drinking large amounts before bedtime, and sticking to a sleep schedule that works for you.
If you have trouble sleeping a full night at least 3 nights per week, you should talk to your doctor. Lack of sleep doesn’t just make you irritable; it wreaks havoc on your body’s systems.
Sleep well and smile,
Originally Published in GlobalFit‘s GO! Newsletter