Getting a good sleep is one of the most pivotal factors in body and brain health — but with the busy lives we’re leading, getting a “good sleep” is one of the most challenging feats we tackle in the average day.
We all know we need it, but it’s hard to determine just how much we should be getting — not to mention how we should be getting it. It’s hard to feel like we’re ever quite getting enough (hint: we aren’t) and we may not realize how much that’s hurting us. Read on to learn all the best tips for a good night’s sleep from field experts (and try to stay awake until the end!)
How Much Sleep Do I Really Need?
Although different findings have been reported on this matter over the past decade on sleep research, The New York Times describes a particularly enlightening 2003 study by Dr. David Dinges – the head of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the Hospital at University of Pennsylvania — can convincingly confirm that eight hours is optimal for a healthy night of sleep. For the purposes of this study, Dinges assigned dozens of subjects into three separate groups: some would sleep four hours per night, some would sleep six hours per night, and the final fortunate few would sleep eight hours per night — all under controlled laboratory conditions.
Each day, subjects faced P.V.T. (psychomotor vigilance tests) — essentially, elementary tests of reaction-time — considered to be excellent measures of sleepiness and cognitive functioning. Those subjects who had gotten the recommended eight hours of sleep did not lapse out of consciousness at any point throughout testing. The six-hour and four-hour groups performed markedly worse on the first day of the experiment, growing increasingly impaired with each passing test session.
The Times describes a subsequent study by Dr. Gregory Belenky, then-director of the division of neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., which suggested that even a seven-hour night of sleep showed negative — and immediate — impacts on subjects’ levels of awareness (interestingly, subjects who got more than eight hours did not perform markedly better than any eight-hour subjects — making eight hours the “sweet spot” between health and efficiency.)
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 report, the average American is getting six hours and 31 minutes of sleep (approximately 6.5 hours) of sleep per night. It turns out that, like it or not, our brains could be performing at a higher level!
All that said, no two bodies are precisely the same, so seven to eight hours represents an average — as with any figure, deviations do exist. But most sources, including the Center for Disease Control, confirm that this basal amount is tops as far as the national average is concerned. As we all know, getting a good sleep is easier said than done. So how do we make it happen?
Getting the Best Sleep Possible
Unsurprisingly, the National Sleep Foundation provides tips for this very purpose. Here are a few of their cardinal rules:
Stick to the same bedtime and wake up time every day of the week. We often refer to our “internal clock,” and there’s more credit to it than you might think! As with almost any physical routine, in time your body will become accustomed to the pattern that you dictate for it. If you decide on a 9:00 p.m. bedtime, it may initially be tough to adapt — depending how far off this is from your precedent habits — but your body is intelligent, and will make the changes it needs. Soon, you’ll start nodding off at 8:30 p.m.! The same principle applies for mornings.
Ease into a relaxing state of mind. Try to avoid excitatory or adrenaline-pumping behaviors at bedtime. Calming activities like reading can help distance you mentally and physically from the stresses of your day.
Naps are the enemy! Occasional naps might be necessary, but they can cost you when you’re trying to re-establish your body’s rhythm at bedtime. Besides, once you’ve implemented these tips, you’ll find yourself less reliant on catching Zs over the course of the day.
Exercise. If you can work a run, walk, cycle, or any other kind of workout into your daily routine, you’ll find yourself slipping easily into a good night’s sleep that evening.
Check your environment. This is another matter of preference, but critical for a high-quality rest. Most people prefer to sleep in darkness and quietude, or with soothing white noise in the background. Comfortable bed space and temperature are also musts.
Some people may wish to investigate additional therapeutic techniques. A helpful list of natural and medical remedies can be found on Oprah.com. These tips are all worth looking into, as getting a comfortable night’s sleep may be more critical to your health than you realize!
How Does Sleep Really Help Me?
Getting an adequate, high-quality level of sleep has been proven to have incredible health benefits, working as a preventative measure as well. According to the Center for Disease Control, insufficient sleep has been linked to “a number of chronic diseases and conditions – such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression … Not getting enough sleep is associated with the onset of these diseases and also may complicate their management and outcome.”
As was previously covered, sleep deprivation also poses risks in its impairment of motor functioning, performance, alertness, and attention. This issue also presents health concerns with regards to occupational injuries — WebMD reports that sleepiness contributes to a “greater than twofold higher risk of sustaining” one –and automobile injury. The Center for Disease Control and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate conservatively that one in forty fatal crashes per year are the direct consequence of drowsy driving. What do these statistics all add up to? Be safe, and be rested!