The benefits of sleep are no secret.
For most adults, 7 hours or more of sleep each night is recommended. Getting enough sleep can help lower the risk of serious health conditions, manage a healthy weight, and reduce stress, just to name a few.
This begs the question - why are more and more people struggling to get enough sleep? What is the short and long-term impact of sleep deprivation?
In this post, we’ll dive deep into the dangers of chronic sleep deprivation, why so many people can’t seem to get the sleep they need, and how you can improve your sleep quality over time.
Why aren’t we sleeping enough?
1 in 3 adults aren’t getting the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night. From a demanding job to a busy social life, there are many reasons adults aren’t sleeping as much as they should.
With a significant increase in digital consumption, from our phones to binge-watching TV shows, sleep seems to be the one thing most adults are willing to sacrifice.
Many adults work multiple jobs or have shift work that requires them to sleep less or during times that are not ideal within their environments. For example, a night nurse may have to sleep during the day, but the home environment may not be suitable for 7 hours of quiet, uninterrupted sleep.
Other people are living with health disorders, from anxiety to sleep apnea, that impact the quality and duration of sleep they get each day.
What can happen to your body if you don't sleep enough?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for adults. However, it’s not just about the length of time you sleep; it’s also about the quality of sleep you get in that time period. Sleep quality plays a role in the recovery your body undergoes while asleep and how rested you feel the next day.
If you can't sleep longer than 4 hours a night, you may start to notice negative changes within your body and mind. Here are some of the most critical ways your body will feel the impact of not enough sleep.
Physical Health Impacts
Your body requires enough sleep to reset and repair itself. Your heart rate slows, your blood pressure falls, and some vital organs don’t have to work as hard during this period of rest. When your body does not have this time to repair, it can be damaging in several ways.
Those who do not get enough consistent sleep can be at a higher risk of the following:
- Coronary heart disease
- Kidney disease
- High blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
Mental Health Effects
Think back to a time when you didn’t get enough sleep - how did you feel the next day? Many people report feeling more stressed, drained, impatient, and unable to focus when they’re experiencing sleep deprivation. This is likely because adequate sleep helps maintain our cognitive skills, like attention, memory, and learning.
The brain needs sleep to rest and repair just as much as the body does. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to the following mental health effects:
- Struggle to focus or think clearly (brain fog)
- Negative emotional responses
- Increased risk of mental health disorders
- Depression and anxiety
- Suicidal ideation
- Bipolar disorder
Since the 1960s, data has shown that individuals who get seven or more hours of sleep have the lowest mortality risk. Particularly for those who are living with pre-existing conditions, getting enough sleep (among many other factors) has the power to add years to our lives.
Over time, chronic sleep deprivation can negatively impact the heart. Whether you’re intentionally getting less sleep or struggling with insomnia, a consistent lack of sleep is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.
This risk is associated with other factors related to sleep problems, including higher stress levels and a lack of physical exercise, which can impact heart health as well.
Sleep extension occurs when you’re in a sleep “debt,” and your body needs to make up for the sleep it lacks. Sleep extension is when you intentionally sleep longer than you normally would to catch up on sleep. For people who regularly get less than the recommended amount of sleep, sleep extension can have physical and mental benefits, but for most, it’s not a sustainable lifestyle or practice.
Improving Sleep Quality
Now that you know the dangers of chronic sleep deprivation, let’s get into the actions and healthy lifestyle changes you can make to improve your sleep quality. Whether you’re currently experiencing poor sleep or you have in the past, these are suggestions and recommendations you can implement in your daily life to improve your sleep quality and duration.
Take Care of Your Body
If your sleep quality needs improvements, take a step back and evaluate a few parts of your daily habits. Are you eating healthy? How much caffeine are you consuming? Are you getting enough exercise?
Aside from the physical aspect, your mental health habits may need modifying as well. Take the necessary steps to lower any types of anxiety you experience on a regular basis. These steps can include therapy, meditation, yoga, journaling, and other self-care practices that work for you.
Create a Bedtime Routine
Establishing a routine can help to improve your sleep quality over time. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Take other measures to ensure you are relaxed and ready for bed by putting your phone down an hour before bed.
Meditating before bed can be a very useful tool, especially if you have trouble quieting your mind. With practice, you’ll get into bed feeling calm, relaxed, and ready to catch some Z’s. Meditation is typically associated with calmness and peace, but it also has a beneficial impact on the body and the mind as you prepare for bedtime. While meditating, your breathing slows, and the part of your brain that controls sleep cycles is activated.
Melatonin is a natural hormone made by the brain that assists with sleep. Trying a melatonin supplement may help improve your sleep patterns over time if you struggle with short sleep syndrome. Just be sure to find a product that has undergone third-party testing to ensure it’s safe and has the accurate dosage.
Track Your Sleep
Many health apps offer sleep trackers where users can monitor the rest they get each night to identify changes or irregularities in sleep. Having access to your personal sleep data can help you make lifestyle changes in order to improve your sleep over time.
Sleep your way to optimal health with Evidation
If you were wondering, "Is 5 hours of sleep enough?" Now you know that change is imminent for your physical and mental health. Evidation Members can earn points for tracking self-care activities such as walking, sleeping, food intake, and more. By completing surveys and questionnaires, Evidation Members gain access to insights about their sleep patterns and personalized content, like tips and articles to help improve sleep. Download our app today to get started.