With so many distractions in today’s society like social media and endless streaming services, it’s no wonder people have such a hard time getting a full night’s rest. Sleep, however, is very important to both a person’s physical and mental health. We spend about one-third of our lives asleep, and for good reason. Sleep is essential to the recovery process—it’s the time our brains shut down, our bodies build muscle and we process life using the subconscious.
Stress is Not a Bad Thing and Neither is Sleep
To improve, we undergo stress followed by rest. As much as many of us would love to take shot after shot of expresso and chase it with a gallon a coffee to get through the next few hours of work or study, it’s not in our best interest. Working too hard for too long overloads the brain and body and results in the opposite effect—the brain fails to retain information, the quality of work falters, and the body atrophies. It’s especially important to stretch your limits, but never to the point your threshold snaps.
Making sure to rest after times of extreme stress allows the body to recuperate and improve itself. To build muscle, the body needs time to recover and process. During those eight hours of rest, our body is busy healing itself, repairing muscles and strengthening the things learned from the day before.
Side Effects of Not Getting Enough Rest
At the very least, when we don’t get enough sleep we slow our progression and prevent ourselves from fulfilling our potential. However, as we become more sleep deprived, the side effects get worse.
Common side effects of not getting enough sleep include:
- Daytime fatigue
- Poor cognitive function
- Difficulty making gains when bodybuilding
- Difficulty regulating weight
- Poor blood circulation
- Poor performance
Energy drinks, coffee, and other stimulants can mask fatigue for a while, but not getting enough rest will eventually catch up with a person and have serious effects on their health. Those that fail to get a good night’s rest are more prone to developing systemic issues like heart disease and diabetes later in life.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
According to an article published in sleepfoundation.org, it depends on our age group.
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5): 9-11 hours
- School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
- Younger Adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
- Older Adults (65+): 7-8 hours
In early childhood, we need lots of sleep. That’s because our body is developing and we develop most during sleep. We spend the day breaking down muscles and stimulating new parts of the brain. It’s during sleep that those parts of the brain become memories and muscles recuperate after a day of use. Growing children are at their most impressionable stages, learning about everything from language to how to walk, building the habits that can often be taken for granted as adults.
During early adulthood, we’ve nearly reached the maximum level of maturity our bodies and brains will get. At this stage, maintaining the body is most important, as the development stage is just about finished by this time—while we never stop learning and growing, our growth has significantly slowed, thus requiring much less sleep.
The Circadian Rhythm – Sleep Cycles and the Best Time for Bed
Each person is different and so is his or her sleeping habits. The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock—it remembers when people feel most energized and reminds them when it’s time to recharge. Our circadian rhythm is assisted by light and dark; people tend to get sleepy when it’s night time and become wide awake when there’s sunlight. Outside factors like artificial light can affect a person’s circadian rhythm, causing a person to fall off their sleep cycle and have greater difficulty getting to bed when they want.
How to Get Better Sleep
The first thing to do is to prioritize sleep. Make it a goal to get to bed on time and put it on top of your list of things to do. Rest is just as important as stress, and so it should be treated so, equal to your other goals.
Assess your sleeping habits. When do you often feel tired? When are you feeling the most energized? Keep an energy journal and be sure to jot down how much time you sleep and when. Also write down how energized you feel throughout the day, whether you feel fatigued or when you feel most preppy.
Be sure to create an atmosphere conducive to sleep—that means winding down at least one hour before your intended bedtime and turning off electronic devices like televisions, cell phones, tablets and computers. Remove any sort of stimulation other than a paper book.
Schedule your sleep time. It doesn’t matter when you get to bed, just as long as you get to bed on time and get enough rest. When you should go to bed depends on when you need to be awake. Some people will work early mornings and need to get to bed before 5 AM, while others can work the graveyard and can only manage to sleep during early mornings. Getting consistent sleep is what’s most important. I advise those that work the graveyard shift to blackout their windows and prevent light from entering their room when it’s time for bed—this helps to maintain a regular circadian rhythm.
Create a bed-time routine. Stretch, read, or do something that doesn’t require a lot of mental energy that can be done to relax the body. Practice yoga, meditate or brush your teeth—anything that cues your brain that it’s finally time for bed.
Exercise regularly. Exhausting your body so you have no choice but to rest can greatly improve your ability to fall asleep and fight insomnia. After a stressful workout, the body and brain practically beg to rest, making it easy to fall into a slumber at the time you set.
Stick to the same schedule. Building a habit is easiest if you stick to the same time every day, and sleep is no exception. Going to bed at the same time every day will get your body used to its natural circadian rhythm, eventually making it easier to get to bed.
We spend a large part of our lives asleep, so it’s only wise to control sleep best we can to ensure we maintain steady progress.
When do you like to get to bed? Are you naturally a night owl or do you prefer watching the sunrise? Share your habits!