Most adults need between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep per night. Most of the adults I know tell me they don’t get that much. In fact, I’ve found that some people seem to think it’s a badge of honor that they function on less, as though it demonstrates how invaluable their presence is to the people and projects in their lives. Others wear a face of desperation when answering how much sleep they get because though they report wanting more, there’s just too much to do during the day to get to bed at a reasonable time. For some, sleep gets interrupted during the night for hours at a time and seems to become habitual.
Just yesterday I had a conversation with someone regarding her night time routine of reading before bed and nightly wakings for two or more hours which results in less than adequate sleep during the week and sleeping half the day on the weekends. She often reads during the nightly wakings. While she enjoys reading, she doesn’t enjoy being tired all day and/or sleeping half the day away.
We all need adequate sleep to help our brain and body perform a number of important mental and physical functions. One of the basics that I learned about years ago has to do with how muscle utilizes sleep to repair after intense workouts. If you exercise, what’s the point of all the hard work if you sabotage yourself with less than adequate sleep?
The brain uses sleep to consolidate the day’s learning and memories. Sleep adequacy also impacts decision making as it increases the ability to receive, process and act on information.
Other factors impacted by sleep have to do with the role of hormones. Sleep increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that facilitates self discipline, helps you feel cooler, calmer, and more upbeat. Higher levels of serotonin also reduces the incidence of depression.
Dopamine levels rise with more sleep and causes us to feel more energetic, capable, and motivated to persevere when facing difficulties.
Leptin levels are replenished during sleep. Leptin helps us regulate our food intake as well as when and how much energy to spend in physical activity.
High cortisol levels brought on by less than optimal sleep are associated with impatience, irritability, insomnia, premature aging, and cravings of high sugar, high fat, and high sodium foods.
Interestingly, these hormones also play a role in exercise, mood and nutrition. For example, with exercise, serotonin and dopamine levels rise and cortisol levels drop. Correspondingly, people with positive moods have higher levels of serotonin and lower levels of cortisol.
When people have a difficult time reaching a goal, say weight loss, it may be beneficial to investigate the less obvious factors that have hormonal impacts on food and energy regulation (sleep and mood). When people have a difficult time with sleep, it may be beneficial to look at less obvious areas that may have a hormonal impact on energy regulation (exercise, food and mood). Can you see how interwoven sleep, hormones and our goals are?
Sleep debt accumulates as well. If we skip two hours of sleep for four consecutive nights, our brains perform no better than if we are legally drunk. Our ability and willingness to be reactive and proactive, to sustain concentration, and to function at high capacity all get increasingly worse. And research shows that sleep deprived people are very poor judges of their own abilities to concentrate.
Interesting to note; poor sleep is NOT a natural consequence of aging. It may however be a natural consequence of reduced physical activity, increased social isolation, and/or higher stress. The good news, as you have read, is that you can experiment to find your best solution to better sleep health.
Are you wondering what the fore mentioned client and I brainstormed as potential solutions to her sleep conundrum? For now she’s going to read for only 30 minutes before bed and the reading must be done with a book, not a Nook, as research shows that the lighting in all of our tech gadgets wake up the parts of the brain responsible for alertness. Also, should she wake during the night, reading is not an option, instead she must wait until morning when she wakes - at the same time regardless of night time waking. Reading will be her reward as soon as she gets out of bed with the alarm. The goal is to retrain her sleep cycle to begin and end at a set time rather than having no structure. It will take time, but new habits can be learned!
So, how much sleep are you getting per night? How can you improve that number?
To learn more about sleep, mood, food, and exercise and get some usefu, I recommend “Smarts and Stamina” by Marie-Josee Shaar and Kathryn Britton
Learner and sharer of all things healthy, active, esteem building, growth promoting, witty and Hawaiian