If you’re reading this after a long day’s work and feeling the fatigue sink and making you feel like you aren’t getting enough sleep, we have some bad news: you probably really aren’t getting as much sleep as you should be.
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a Morbidity and Mortality Week Report that showed more than a third of adults in the country aren’t actually getting as much as sleep as they should be. This lack of sleep, coupled by numerous stressors, was directly linked with a whole host of physical and mental problems, some minor, while others were a little more concerning.
Most people assume that getting 5 hours of Z’s is plenty, but is 5 hours of sleep enough? According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, 5 hours of sleep isn’t even close to enough. In fact, research shows that adults need at least 7 hours of sleep or more per night in order to keep both body and mind at optimum levels.
Anything less than that and your overall health can actually start to decline. It’s not just a matter of being fatigued, although that does contribute to a lowered immune system; sleep deprivation can lead to a host of other help problems, like weight gain. Not getting enough sleep can even affect you mentally, with studies showing that regularly getting less than 7 hours of sleep can negatively affect a person’s nervous system over time, making them less prone to rational thought and less prone to solve problems in a logical manner.
A big misconception people have about sleep is that they assume they sleep for 5 hours straight. However, sleep is actually a little more complicated: the human body sleeps in stages, with each stage shifting every 90 minutes. There are 4 stages of sleep:
Stage 1: Undefined Non-REM
Stage 2: Defined Non-REM
Stage 3: Deep Non-REM
Stage 4: REM Sleep
REM is Rapid Eye Movement, and is considered to be ‘deep sleep’. This is when your mind starts dreaming. People who sleep less than 7 hours usually do not go beyond Stage 2 sleep, which, while not as prone to awakenings as stage 1, is nowhere near your body’s much needed deep sleep.
So is 5 hours of sleep enough? No, it is not, and getting anything less than that can open you up to a wide variety of problems.
You Can’t “Make Up” For Lack of Sleep
A common thought process for most people is, it’s okay if they don’t get enough sleep during the weekdays because they can just “make up” for it over the weekend by sleeping in. However, according to researchers: that won’t do you any good.
Harvard Medical School calls this “sleep debt” and is a condition wherein a person doesn’t get the recommended 7+ hours of sleep every night. Sleep debt is not something you can pay back, and the more it accumulates, the worse it gets: diabetes, memory loss, weight gain, and even heart disease, are all linked to chronic sleep debt, either directly or indirectly.
It Can Negatively Impact Your Mental Health
As mentioned earlier, sleep debt can cause severe effects on your mental health, including, but not limited to, increasing levels of anxiety and even causing depression. But that’s just the tip of the sleep deprivation iceberg…
New research shows that chronic sleep deprivation (that is, getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night) can severely lessen a person’s ability to think clearly, drastically reduce reaction times, and even negatively impact the formation of new memories. These effects happen over time, and a person undergoing chronic sleep deprivation will see the effects unfold gradually as the years roll by.
Sleep Deprivation Can Wreak Havoc On Your Body
For people who believe that 5 hours of sleep is enough, we have even more bad news: getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep can lead to a whole lot of physical problems, from weight gain and heart disease, to a perpetually lowered immune system that can lead to serious complications in the future.
In a study done by the University of Colorado, researchers found that just one week of sleeping 5 hours a night led their participants to gain 2 pounds. This is because a lack of sleep sends your hormones into chaos, including hormones that regulate your appetite.
The less sleep you get, the more weight you gain, the more you’re at risk of heart disease, especially considering that most people with sleep debt often eat excessive amounts at night, right before they sleep. This means that your body has less time to digest and process food, which then leads to fat and sugar accumulating in your arteries.
If that’s not bad enough, sleep deprivation can also make you sick. During REM sleep, or deep sleep, your body starts releasing a type of protein cytokines, which help your body heal itself as you sleep. Cytokines help fight inflammation and infections, and a lack of sleep can severely decrease the amount of Cytokines in your system, making you more prone to sickness.
Get Better Sleep
Sleep deprivation is a serious problem, but fortunately, it’s also a problem that can be resolved easily and effectively, with just a few simple lifestyle changes. Here are some things you can do to get better sleep:
Sleep Schedules Help You Get Consistent Z’s
Creating a sleep schedule and following it strictly can greatly increase the chances of you getting the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night. Sleep schedules aren’t complicated: set a time for you to go to bed, and a time for you to wake up. Follow this every night, even on weekends. Soon, your body will start getting used to this schedule and adjust itself accordingly
One purpose of meditation is to soothe your mind and create a sense of peace and calm which, as we all know, are necessary for a whole night of restful sleep. Meditating just a few minutes every night before going to bed can greatly help people bring themselves to a serene mindset that’s primed for sleep. Make meditation a part of your bedtime ritual (i.e. taking a warm bath, light stretching, reading a relaxing book, etc.), and over time, your body will start taking your bedtime ritual as a signal for sleep, helping you get to Stage 1 sleep even easier.
Your bedroom should only be used for rest and relaxation. This means taking away phones, tablets, laptops, and basically anything else that might tempt you to stay up past your bedtime. Over time, your body and mind will start getting used to the idea of your bedroom as a place for sleep, which, in turn, will give you a sense of peace and relaxation as soon as you step in your room.
If All Else Fails, Consult Your Doctor
Sleep deprivation is a common problem, but insomnia isn’t. If you’ve tried everything in your power to get a good night’s sleep and still fail, you might have to go to a sleep doctor or a psychiatrist and see if there’s something wrong with you. Thankfully, most hospitals now have sleep specialists and therapists who can pinpoint possible causes for insomnia and treat it effectively.
So, to recap: is 5 hours of sleep enough? It is not. Experts recommend 7 or more hours of sleep every night. A Lack of sleep can make you sick, negatively affect the way you think, and give you weight gain. There are ways to solve the problem, however, and it starts with something we all hated growing up: a regular bedtime.