Slogging through the workday is the mildest consequence of not sleeping enough. Sure, your creativity goes down, you tend to make mistakes, and it takes twice as long to get things done.
First off, you’re more likely to get hurt. “It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true,” says Susan Lalemand, a registered nurse and health coach with Unum. “People trip more. They fall. They don’t pay attention to their hands in machinery.”
And your immunity goes down, so that means you’re more likely to get sick. Your blood pressure also rises, which makes you vulnerable to cardiac diseases. Plus, you might pack on extra pounds.
Sounds scary, so let’s take a moment to focus on the good stuff shut-eye does for your body.
While you’re asleep, you brain rids itself of waste, cells regenerate, muscle tears repair, and inflammation goes down.
Sleep also reduces stress. “It makes our thyroid and our hormones and all of those things work better,” Lalemand says.
If you’re not sleeping enough, it’s likely for one of two reasons: You’re not carving out the time you need for it, or it’s tough to fall or stay asleep.
There are all kinds of reasons not to commit to sleeping enough. Unless you’re the parent of a newborn or dealing with some other demanding circumstance – as in, someone’s life depends on you being awake – you probably can find enough time to sleep. Seven to eight hours of continuous zzz’s should do it, though duration varies among people, according to the Mayo Clinic and health experts.
A great way to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep is to unplug, literally and figuratively. That means not being in front of a screen at least an hour before bed.
Instead, do something introspective and quieting:
- light a candle
- pet your cat or dog
And right before bed:
Make sure your room is dark and neither too hot nor too cold (cooler temps tend to be better).
Physical activity earlier in the day will do you good, as will being outside, in part because natural light helps regulate your body clock. You’re looking for quality sleep, and both nudge you toward smooth snoozing.
If you still have trouble sleeping, melatonin can help, but you can’t take it forever. Long-term use has been linked to depression.
Finally, your bedroom should be all about… your bed. That means your taxes aren’t piled on your sheets.
“It should be a sacred place that’s reserved for sleep time,” Lalemand says.
Journalist Mitra Malek writes about wellness, fitness and innovation. She has taught yoga regularly since 2006 and was a senior editor for Yoga Journal magazine. Learn more at mitramalek.com.