More of us are having trouble sleeping – and it’s a hazard to our health.
A sleepless night can lead to being exhausted the next day. But too many sleepless nights can lead to more than being tired and grumpy. Lack of sleep can take a serious toll on your emotional and physical health, and may even put you in danger.
You may see sleep as “down time,” when your brain shuts off and your body rests. So if your schedule is jam-packed, sleep may be the first to go, since other responsibilities may seem more important. But research shows that during sleep, your body is doing more than dreaming. It’s carrying out important tasks to help you stay healthy. Your brain is still hard at work, forming pathways you need to learn and create memories.
Don’t snooze? You lose.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you can’t focus or respond quickly. You may also have mood problems. Over time, not getting enough sleep can increase risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, and cancer.
Lack of sleep can even be unsafe. Nodding off while driving (“drowsy” driving) or having trouble performing daily tasks because you’re so sleepy might put you at risk. Not getting enough sleep is linked to car crashes, accidents at work, medical mistakes, and more.
Why we can’t sleep?
Health experts believe that living in our “24/7” world encourages us to work, be on our phones or tablets, or be involved in social activities around the clock. We may cut back on sleep to keep up.
In addition to an increasing number of us who are trying to get by on less sleep, 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep disorders. This includes:
- Insomnia, having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Obstructive sleep apnea, having your airway become narrowed or partly blocked while you’re sleeping, leading to a pause in breathing. Loud snoring is a telltale sign of sleep apnea.
Sleep problems usually can be treated. Talk with your health care provider.
How much sleep is enough
On average, these are nightly (or daily) amounts of sleep health experts at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommend:
- Babies: About 16 hours
- Pregnant women: Usually need more sleep during the first three months of pregnancy
- School-aged children: 10 hours
- Teens: 9-10 hours
- Adults: 7-8 hours (although some people may need just five hours or as many as 10)
Nearly 30 percent of adults say they get less than six hours of sleep a day.
As we get older, we often sleep more lightly and for shorter time periods, even though we still need about the same amount of sleep as we did in early adulthood. About half of those 65 and older often have sleeping problems. This may be a normal part of aging. It may also be due to a health problem or medicine used to treat it.
Paying up on your “sleep debt.”
If you’re “sleep-deprived” for a few days, you may find yourself in a “sleep debt.” Think of it as being overdrawn on your checking account. Even though you may think your body can get used to working on less sleep than it needs, your judgment, reaction time and other functions are likely still weakened. Eventually, your body demands that you “pay up” on your debt.
Less counting sheep and more sleep.
You may sleep better when you:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
- Stay away from large meals before bedtime
- Stay away from caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
- Don’t smoke (or use other nicotine products)
Getting enough sleep is just as important to good health as eating right and exercising.
If you have trouble sleeping, talk with your provider.