Lack of sleep will make you irritable, grumpy, and impossible to be around. You can’t think clearly and you’re quick to be frustrated; you’d rather have the side of your face pressed deeply into a pillow, snoozing soundly with your mouth hanging open. It’s hard not to think that productivity is more important than a couple hours of sleep, but working into the wee hours of the night could be doing serious damage to your health. Sleep loss can affect learning, creativity, productivity, and emotional stability, as well as your memory. Continue reading to find out if you’re sleep deprived and how much sleep you really need to be at your absolute best.
You’re gaining weight and you’re not sure why. Weight gain is one of the sneakiest side effects of chronic sleep deprivation. You could be going to the gym an extra day, packing healthier lunches to eat at work, yet for some reason you just can’t keep those extra pounds off. It’s likely that you’re not clocking in enough snooze time. When the body is lacking sleep it tells itself it needs more food. If you’re late night snacking it’s because ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, is produced at a higher rate, while leptin, a hormone that alerts the brain when you’ve eaten enough, is produced at a much lower rate. Not to mention, when your nights are longer you’re allowing yourself more time to snack.
You can’t seem to think clearly or quickly. The most alarming effects are those that harm our ability to think. When we sleep, new pathways are encoded for memory and learning; the right amount of sleep is necessary for these pathways to function perfectly. Well rested individuals are better able to learn something new, complete tasks more successfully and effeciently, and are more likely to remember what they learned. Insufficient sleep slows down thought processes, makes it more difficult to focus, and impairs smart decision making; driving while sleep deprived is akin to driving drunk and should be taken just as seriously.
You’re getting sick too often. Cytokines are cellular hormones, produced only while you’re sleeping, that help fight infection. Therefore, those of us that don’t get enough sleep may be more prone to catching common sicknesses like the cold and flu. A study done at Carnegie Melon University found that participants who slept seven hours or less a night were three times more likely to catch a cold virus.
Sleep requirements depend on how old you are. Newborns need 16 to 18 hours a day, preschoolers need 11 to 12 hours, elementary school kids need 10 hours, adolescents should get 9 to 10 hours, and teenagers only need about seven hours. Adults should be getting about 7 to 9 hours, but if you’re sleeping less than 7 you could be sleep deprived.
Some tips for getting better sleep include getting enough exercise; working out at least three or four hours before bedtime uses up energy and helps the body relax afterwards. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages right before bed; coffee, teas, and sodas can keep you awake all night. Stress, anxiety, and overactive thoughts may need to be written down or washed away in a hot bath. Jane E. Brody, columnist for the New York Times says taking supplements of melatonin, produced by the pineal gland after sundown, helps her fall asleep more quickly.
Always consult your primary care physician or chiropractor for all health related advice.
Image Credit: Sleeping by James Bennett used under a Creative Commons License.
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