You already know that sleep is important. While most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night (and teens need about an hour more), many of us are not getting the sleep we need. In addition, some people suffer from poor-quality sleep because of medical issues, stress, and a less-than-optimal sleep environment. It’s important to be aware of the downfalls of not getting enough sleep. Read on for information on this vital topic, along with suggestions for getting better sleep.
Physical Pitfalls of Not Getting Enough Sleep
If you’ve ever had the experience of being sleep-deprived, you know how you feel the next day. When this happens once or a few days in a row, you might experience:
- Muscular soreness
When sleep deprivation is more long-term, the side effects become more serious. Your immune system will not function as well as it normally does, so you’ll be more susceptible to colds and stomach bugs. Over time, a lack of sleep can even raise your odds of developing diabetes and heart disease. Adolescents who don’t sleep well can suffer from lower levels of growth hormones, which can impact their physical development. Not getting enough sleep can also contribute to overweight and obesity because the hormones that tell you to stop eating when you are full are suppressed by a lack of sleep.
Mental Health Ramifications
Fuzzy thinking and yawning are par for the course when you are sleep-deprived. You might feel groggy or impatient if your sleep is disrupted. Over time, this can lead to more serious consequences. People with mental health conditions can find that they worsen markedly during times of sleep deprivation. In addition, it can cause the following:
- Suicidal thoughts and ideation
One big danger of not getting enough sleep is a condition called microsleep. You have probably experienced it at some point: You might feel drowsy at a time when you shouldn’t (or don’t want to) fall asleep, and you nod off for just a few seconds before startling awake. It can happen even when you’re not aware of it, and it’s a factor behind many drowsy driving accidents. This is one reason why people are advised not to drive while tired; they can fall into microsleep episodes without even realizing it.
Sleeping Environment Is Important
It’s important to pay attention to sleep hygiene in order to get the rest that you need for good physical and mental health. Making your sleeping environment more conducive to sleep can make a big difference in not only the quantity of the sleep you get but also the quality. Restless sleep is far less efficient than restful sleep, so you should do what you can to follow good sleep hygiene rules to maximize your sleeping time.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, here are a few ways that you can improve your sleeping environment:
- Banish all electronics – In today’s constantly connected world, this is difficult, but if you can switch to an analog or digital alarm clock rather than depending on your smartphone, you’ll be able to leave your phone charging in another room.
- Manage the light and temperature – Make sure that the room is dark enough and a comfortable temperature. The optimal temperature for most people is between 65 and 72 degrees, but do what makes you most comfortable.
- Save the bedroom for sleep – Don’t watch television, pay bills, or check your emails in your bedroom. This will help you associate the bedroom with relaxation.
When trying to fall asleep, if you find yourself staring at the ceiling or worrying about the day to come, simply wishing for sleep is likely to be counterproductive. Instead, focus on tightening and relaxing each body part, one at a time, starting at your feet and continuing up your legs to your abdomen, chest, hands, arms, shoulders, and face. By the time you’ve gotten through this exercise, you might find that you’re ready to nod off again. Listening to soothing music or a guided progressive muscle relaxation audio program can also help.
If you think that you’ve been waiting to fall back to sleep for 20 minutes or more, it’s time to leave the bedroom and do something uninteresting.Once you start fretting over the fact that you’re not sleeping, you’ll find it more difficult to get to sleep. If you find yourself in this situation, you might find that it’s best to go to a different room, turn on a dim light, and read a non-exciting book until you feel drowsy enough to start nodding off.
Medical Conditions That Can Cause Sleeplessness
There are some medical conditions that can make it difficult for you to go to sleep.
Some are physical: For example, sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing for short periods of time. Your body reacts by gasping for a deep breath, which wakes you up even if you don’t realize it. The changes associated with pregnancy and menopause can keep women wide awake in the wee hours. In addition, the following medical conditions can make it difficult to sleep.
- Nasal congestion
- and other conditions
So can medications that you might have to take for high blood pressure, asthma, depression, and other health conditions.
Mental Health Conditions
Mental health conditions can also make it difficult to get your 40 winks. If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you might find that intrusive thoughts begin once the lights go off. Other mental health conditions that can negatively impact sleep include:
- Bipolar disorder
- and more
Treating the mental health disorder can have the positive side effect of improving your sleep, which, in turn, can further improve your mental and physical health.
Ask for Help
If you’re not getting enough sleep on a regular basis and you’re not seeing results after improving your sleep hygiene, schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she can evaluate you for various medical problems then refer you to a sleep center, a mental health counselor, or a specialist who can help. Sleep is important enough to take action promptly, so don’t let insomnia wreak havoc on your physical or mental health.