Getting Enough Sleep? Think Again

You’ve heard it a million times: get seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health. And if you’re like two-thirds of Americans, you’ve ignored this advice, pointing to a busy schedule and not enough hours in the day as justifications for operating on just four or five hours of sleep.

What most people don't realize is that sleep is not a luxury; it's a necessity. There are several ways regular sleep helps your brain and body function.

#1 Weight Management

Extensive research shows that people who sleep less than seven to nine hours per night are between 23% and 73% more likely to be overweight or obese than those who get enough sleep. Why? Two hormones that affect appetite are also affected by sleep. Inadequate sleep results in lower leptin levels (a hormone produced by fat cells to decrease appetite) and higher levels of ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates appetite).

In other words, if you don't sleep enough you're more likely to feel hungry and eat more. By age 27, those who sleep less than six hours per night are also more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) even after controlling for family history, exercise level and other factors. Not sleeping enough puts you at greater risk for diabetes, substance abuse, headaches and high blood pressure.

#2 Mood Regulation

Feeling cranky and irritable? Chronic sleep loss is associated with depression, anxiety, behavioral problems and low self-esteem.

#3 Healthy Decision-Making

The mind continues to work while you sleep. It processes information, bolstering your ability to learn new things, stay focused and make good decisions. Studies also suggest that adequate sleep can make you more creative while also boosting your academic and athletic performance.

#4 Stress Management

Sleep can affect your ability to bounce back from stress. Reduced stress levels may also translate into healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which may reduce the risk of heart disease and other health conditions.

Signs You�re Not Getting Enough Sleep

To find out if you’re getting enough sleep, check out the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, an assessment used by doctors and researchers to determine whether an individual is suffering from mild, moderate or severe sleep deprivation. Here are a few indications you’re not getting enough rest:

  • Not feeling refreshed when you wake up in the morning
  • Irritability or snapping at family, friends or co-workers
  • Drop in energy in the afternoon
  • Feeling tired all day
  • Having to force yourself to stay awake for necessary activities
  • Forgetfulness

Tips for a Good Night's Rest

If you’re struggling to get a restorative night’s rest, consider a few of these suggestions:

  • Try exercises like yoga or tai chi that involve paying attention to your breath.
  • Take herbs and supplements such as valerian root or melatonin at bedtime.
  • Sleep in a place that is dark and comfortable, but do not do work or homework in bed.
  • Turn off the television one hour before bedtime.
  • Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.
  • Create a bedtime ritual like taking a bath or shower, doing some light reading or meditating.
  • Get at least seven hours of sleep every night (you can’t make up for a sleep-deprived week by getting extra hours on the weekend).

Still think sleep is a luxury you simply can’t afford? Try getting at least seven hours of sleep per night for two weeks and see how you feel. If you don’t feel healthier and more energized, go back to your old ways. Most people are shocked at the difference.

Images courtesy of, Wellnessawareness.netDr. Carolyn Ross is an internationally known physician, author and speaker on addictions, obesity and eating disorders. She serves as a consultant to The Ranch's eating disorder treatment program in Tennessee, maintains a private practice in Denver, is the author of The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating as well as The Joy of Eating Well and also hosts a weekly radio show, The Vital Life.

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