Weekly Wellness: debunking sleep myths
COLUMBIA - In my line of work, I spend quite a bit of time discussing with my clients the importance of sleep. For some, it's as allusive as the lottery... keep hoping, never winning. Jobs, kids, activities, etc. - they all affect the snooze time. For other clients, they simply "just can't sleep." Their brain "won't shut off." It can be frustrating, challenging and at times downright maddening.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult sleeps less than seven hours per night. So, we're not all made the same. The amount of sleep I need to function is probably different than yours. But, for most healthy adults, research shows us the need is between 7 1/2 to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best. You may believe you are functioning just fine on six hours of sleep (or less) - and it's possible. But very rare. In fact, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco discovered some people have a gene that enables them to do well on six hours of sleep a night. However, this gene appears in less than 3% of the population. For the other 97% of us, six hours doesn't come close to cutting it.
Myth: Getting just one less hour of sleep per night won't affect your daytime functioning.
Truth: You may not be noticeably sleepy during the day, but losing even one hour of sleep can affect your ability to think properly and respond quickly. It also compromises your cardiovascular health, energy balance and ability to fight infections.
Myth: Your body adjusts quickly to different sleep schedules.
Truth: Most people can reset their biological clock, but only by appropriately timed cues--and even then, by one or two hours per day at best. Consequently, it can take more than a week to adjust after traveling across several time zones or switching to the night shift.
Myth: Extra sleep at night can cure you of problems with excessive daytime fatigue.
Truth: The quantity of sleep you get is important, sure, but it's the quality of your sleep that you really have to pay attention to. Some people sleep eight or nine hours a night but don't feel well rested when they wake up because the quality of their sleep is poor.
Myth: You can make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping more on the weekends.
Truth: Although this sleeping pattern will help relieve part of a sleep debt, it will not completely make up for the lack of sleep. Furthermore, sleeping later on the weekends can affect your sleep-wake cycle so that it is much harder to go to sleep at the right time on Sunday nights and get up early on Monday mornings.
So, how much sleep do we really need? Here's what National Institutes of Health recommends:
- Newborn to 2 months old: 12 - 18 hours
- 3 months to 1-year-old: 14 - 15 hours
- 1 to 3 years old: 12 - 14 hours
- 3 to 5 years old: 11 - 13 hours
- 5 to 12 years old: 10 - 11 hours
- 12 to 18 years old: 8.5 - 10 hours
- Adults (18+): 7.5 - 9 hours
We may joke about being sleep deprived, but sleep deprivation is a very real thing. Some of the effects of sleep deprivation are:
- Fatigue, lethargy and lack of motivation
- Moodiness and irritability
- Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills
- Inability to cope with stress
- Reduced immunity; frequent colds and infections
- Concentration and memory problems
- Weight gain
- Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents
- Difficulty making decisions
- Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and other health problems
What can we do? Here are some tips from healthguide.org to getting better sleep:
- Aim for at least seven and a half hours of sleep every night.
- Settle short-term sleep debt with an extra hour or two per night. (If you lost 10 hours of sleep, pay the debt back in nightly one or two-hour installments.)
- Keep a sleep diary. (Record when you go to bed, when you get up, your total hours of sleep and how you feel during the day. As you keep track of your sleep, you may discover your natural patterns and get to know your sleep needs.)
- Take a sleep vacation. (Pick a two-week period when you have a flexible schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally. No alarm clocks!)
- Make sleep a priority. (Put sleep at the top of your to-do list.)