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I’ve always been a great sleeper. I could and still can easily sleep from 10pm to 10am. Now that I’m a parent, I’m still in bed by 10pm, but I don’t have the choice to sleep in until 10am since my alarm clock (child) wakes me up at 7am.
Unfortunately, my son gets it from my wife. It doesn’t matter when either one of them goes to bed, they are both early risers. When it was just me and my wife, it didn’t matter since she was quiet in the morning. But my son is a different story. He goes from waking up to moving 100 mph and makes a lot of noise doing so.
Experts today recommend that adults should receive between 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Currently, the average American gets 6.8 hours of sleep at night. Meanwhile, 59% of of Americans get 7+ hours of sleep at night, while 40% get <7 hours. In 1942, 84% of Americans got 7+ hours of sleep. We really have become a sleep-deprived people!
Expectedly, older Americans sleep the most. 67% of adults over the age of 65 reported to a Gallup survey that they sleep 7+ hours every night. Those getting the least amount of sleep were people earning less than $30,000 annual household income and also adults with children under 18 years old.
A Serious Health Issue
Most people don’t care all that much about sleep. They figure they can function off of little sleep just fine. As Dr. Michael Roizen explains, “Sleep is the most underrated health habit.”
“Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher level cognitive functions: the combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance,” say Drs. Stuart Quan and Russell Sanna, from Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine.
Medical studies have shown that a lack of sleep lead to both health problems and cognitive impairment. A study completed at Duke University found that poor sleep causes higher stress levels and puts the individual greater at risk of heart disease and diabetes. Interestingly enough, these risks are greater in women than they are in men.
A recent study by Johns Hopkins researchers (shout out to my alma mater, woo-woo!) shows that there is a huge difference between sleeping longer with interruptions throughout the night versus sleep that is short but uninterrupted.
The study showed that those people whose sleep had been interrupted reported lower energy levels and reduced positive feelings like sympathy and friendliness compared to people in the short but uninterrupted group.
Interesting, huh? Reminds me of my interrupted sleep during our son’s newborn stage. No wonder my energy levels were so low! Also goes to show that a nap can actually be pretty impactful, if uninterrupted.
Why do you need 8 hours of sleep a day?
Well, for one, a bad mood could hurt your career success. As you know, your attitude at work goes a long way towards your perception there. A sour attitude could hurt your chances of scoring your dream job within the company. But did you know that it cost also affect your overall job satisfaction?
Getting to bed earlier could help your mental health. With more sleep, you are more able to control your emotions. Another study found that those who go to bed late experience frequent negative thoughts.
Greater sleep can increase split-second decisions by up to 4%. This is why they say drowsy drivers can be just as dangerous as drunk drivers.
Of course there are many successful people that don’t require that much sleep. Between 1-3% of the population falls under the category of “sleepless elite”, who are able to sleep just a few hours a day.
Bill Gates once said,
“Even though it’s fun to stay up all night, maybe taking a red-eye flight, if I have to be creative I need seven hours. I can give a speech without much sleep, I can do parts of my job that way, but in thinking creatively, I’m not much good without seven hours.”
So since the chances that you are one of the “sleepless elite” are slim and even Bill Gates thinks he needs seven hours of sleep to maximize his creativeness, what can you do to optimize your sleep?
What you should avoid…
Turn off the blue light
My wife read a study that said the electronic devices emanate a blue light that disrupts sleep. Whenever I’m on my phone before bed, she screams, “Blue light!!” But in all seriousness, the TV that was once in our bedroom is now gone in order to remove that blue light source.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Neither of these are big issues for my wife or me. I gave up caffeine a couple of years ago, and I never developed a taste for alcohol. Caffeine, as you know, is a stimulant, so drinking it right before bed will probably wake you up, even if you aren’t mindful of it. I drank a ton of Coke back in the day, and it didn’t matter to me when I drank it. I could fall asleep two minutes later, but now I realize the caffeine probably did affect me without me knowing it.
Don’t get too much rest
Have you ever been so tired that you sleep in a bit too long and felt lethargic the rest of the day? If you’re like me, this has happened one too many times. Like goldilocks, your body requires a certain amount of sleep that is just right. Too little or too much can wreak havoc on your body.
Don’t exercise right before bed
Everyone leads busy lives today, but getting in your workout right before bed can mess with your sleep cycle. That is due to increasing adrenaline levels, heart rate and body temperature that wake up your body, making it very difficult to fall asleep quickly.
What you should do…
Get on a sleep schedule
In my 20s, I had a bit of a crazy schedule. I would wake up at 6 am and be in bed early on the weekdays. Then, I’d stay up really late on the weekends and sleep in until noon the next day. Needless to say, I had painful days when my body was begging me to stick so some sort of consistent schedule. Now that I’m married and have a kiddo, it’s much easier to keep the 10pm to 7am schedule that I’m use to.
Keep a cool room
My mom refuses to believe this, but research shows that 65°F is the perfect temperature to sleep at. She thinks that 65°F is the equivalent to seeing your breath in the morning. So, I grew up in a very warm house, and now I’m making up for lost time by turning down my house’s temperature to 63°F at night.
My wife introduced me into cherry juice when we first were married. It is suppose to boost melatonin levels naturally. I was having trouble sleeping due to a lot of stress when I was going back to school for my MBA. I started to drink a cup before bed and in no time at all I was falling asleep quicker. It’s also a nice sweet (but healthy) treat to drink before bed!