If you have a sneaking suspicion that you’re not getting enough sleep every night, you can find a little comfort in knowing that you are definitely not alone. A recent study by the CDC states that 1 in 3 Americans are getting an insufficient amount of sleep, which means less than 7 hours of shut-eye a night.
Losing more than sleep
If you are one of the many Americans who are content if they can get five or six hours of sleep a night, you might think, “Well, what’s an hour more or less of sleep?” It turns out that hour can make an enormous difference. Spread out over months, years, or even (sadly) an entire lifetime, this condition is known as chronic sleep deprivation, and it comes with serious consequences, such as an increased chance of developing hypertension and diabetes.
As sleep is one of your main protectors against rampaging diseases and debilitating conditions, losing out on an hour or two every night means lowering your defenses, and taking unnecessary risks with your health.
What’s in an hour?
Not only is it dangerous to constantly get less than 7 hours of sleep, but it also deprives you of getting quality sleep.
When you’re asleep, your brain is cycling through the two main types of sleep: rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid-eye-movement sleep (NREM). Sleep scientist Matthew Walker in his book Why We Sleep tells us that waking up too early or going to bed too late can steal away the time you should be spending in these important phases that work to keep us physically and mentally in good shape.
Walker gives us the example of going to sleep at midnight and instead of waking up at eight in the morning, you’re up at six a.m. for an early meeting. The logical answer to how much sleep you’ve lost would be 25 percent (as you’ve lost two hours from the recommended eight), but that’s not entirely true. “Since your brain desires most of its REM sleep in the...late-morning hours,” Walker tells us, “you will lose 60 to 90 percent of all your REM sleep, even though you are losing 25 percent of your total sleep time”.
Similarly, if you wake up at eight a.m. but don’t go to bed until two a.m., “then you lose a significant amount of NREM sleep”. According to Walker, losing these precious couple of hours at the beginning or ending of sleep is “[s]imilar to an unbalanced diet in which you only eat carbohydrates and are left malnourished by the absence of protein”. Clearly, when it comes to the efficient operating system of sleep, an hour is much more than just an hour.
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Put sleep on the schedule
If you’re like a lot of people, you may spend the end of your day in bed, unwinding by going through Facebook notifications or scrolling through your Twitter feed. Screens do a fantastic job of keeping our brains itching to refresh the page just one more time before shutting off for the night. Despite tucking yourself in at nine p.m....you may not actually be going to sleep until much later. This common activity could be shaving off an hour or two every night from your sleep.
A solution? Giving yourself an eight-hour “sleep opportunity”. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be asleep for eight hours, but you are going to carve out that time to give your body rest every night. This eight-hour span of time should be reserved especially as “sleep time”—not a refresh-the-feed time.
This “sleepportunity” gives you enough cushion to fall asleep, have an occasional night time wake up, and still give your body those beautiful seven to eight hours of sleep.
A friend indeed
Sleep is our constant companion for one-third of our lives (one-third!), and just like any special relationship we want to keep going strong, it requires us to carve time out of our day and make it a priority. If you treat your sleep well, you can be sure that it will return the favor many times over.