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Bedtime Blues: How Do You Get Better Sleep?

If you’re like me sleep is pure fuel—without it, I walk around like a lost zombie. With it, I feel like a million bucks. In a world full of caffeinated beverages, constant phone alerts, and social media it can be hard to get quality sleep. But it all starts with being aware of your needs. This article will help you discover how much sleep you truly need, what could be stopping you from getting that sleep, and practical techniques for getting better rest.

Why Do I Need Sleep?

The average human spends 1/3 of their life asleep. Yet many individuals do not understand why the body needs rest. Rest is just something you do without much thought. It happens almost automatically. And yet few other activities benefit the body with so little effort.

When you sleep your brain enters into recovery mode, helping you unwind and prepare for another day of hard work. Quality sleep regulates physical and mental health, brain and heart health, creativity, immune system health, and even body weight. (1)

It may seem counterintuitive, but the more quality sleep you give your body, the more productive you will be during the day. Surprising health benefits of a full night sleep include:
  • Improved memory, especially when trying to learn a new skill
  • Reduced inflammation,  which in turn reduces the chance of a heart disease, stroke, and arthritis
  • Better grades at school
  • Heightened focus throughout the day
  • Lower stress
  • Emotional stability (2)
Sleep affects every area of your life. If you don't take care of your body, it will start to break down much like a car without periodical maintenance. So do your mind and body a favor and get a good night sleep.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do I Need?

This is a great question that really depends on a few factors including age and individual needs. Some adults may function well on 7 hours of sleep, while others need 9 to feel rested and energetic enough to tackle a new day.

The older you get the less amount of sleep you need in general. However, older adults still need quality sleep in order to meet the demands of a fast pace working life. The average grown adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night. (3) The best way to determine your individual needs is to record how you feel after sleeping over a period of time. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Do I need caffeine just to make it through the average day?
  • Am I productive on just 7 hours of sleep, or do I need 9 to feel well rested and prepared to tackle a new day?
  • Do I get tired while driving?
These questions will help you get closer to the number of hours of sleep you need each night. While no magic number exists, sticking to a set routine that helps you get the hours you need to feel at the top of your game matters most.

Sleep Time Recommendations by Age

Scientists from the National Sleep Foundation found that at every age an optimal range of hours exists for us to have great sleep.

What Happens When I Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

While you should never plan on getting little to no sleep, stuff happens in life. It’s better to know ahead of time your own needs and adjust for turbulence when it comes along.

Every human has a basal sleep need or the amount of sleep your body needs in order to perform at the highest level. When basal sleep needs are ignored you start to build sleep debt or the difference between how much sleep we need and how much we actually get. We rationalize lost sleep with the idea that everyone needs some down time away from work. But when we use the hours right before bedtime for entertainment and push sleep off for another time our body starts to break down. Continuous sleep debt leads to sleep deprivation. (4)
Every human has a basal sleep need or the amount of sleep your body needs in order to perform at the highest level.
Sleep deprivation is simply the condition of not having enough sleep. When you are sleep deprived the body can start to break itself down in a number of ways. These changes can happen quickly or over a longer period of time. Physical effects include fatigue, weight gain or loss, periods of intense energy followed by a crash, headaches, aching muscles, and seizures to name a few. Sleep deprivation can affect the brain as well. Cognitive effects include depression, stress, irritability, false memory, and a lack of focus including forgetfulness to name a few. (5)

A landmark study from the University of Chicago followed a number of students who volunteered to sleep for only 4 hours a night for 6 consecutive days. Research showed that by the end of the 6 days,  participants developed higher blood pressure, higher stress levels, and lower production of antibodies to help fight the flu. But there is a happy ending in this case. All of the effects were reversed when the students repaid their sleep debt.

So the obvious question here is how can you make up for the lost hours of sleep? This depends on how many hours you are trying to catch up on. For short-term sleep debt of 10 hours or less, try sleeping in for 4 hours on the weekend and the extra hours over the next week.

For long-term sleep debt, you might need a vacation. Spend the vacation sleeping without alarms set and wake up naturally. You should be back in the normal swing of things by the end of the vacation. (6)

What Techniques Can I Use to Improve My Sleep?

For many of us, establishing solid natural routines will be the only thing necessary for great night sleep. Sometimes you forget how easy it is to push off sleep for another time. Bad habits are developed and you become drowsy in the daytime. Avoid this by creating and sticking to a simple sleep schedule.

Research from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School shows that there are many ways to set a simple sleep schedule that will help you get better quality rest:
  • If you take a nap, rest earlier in the day
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks up to 5 hours before bedtime
  • Keep the bedroom cool (between 60-75°F)
  • Establish bedtime routines
  • Don’t watch the clock
  • Drink a balanced amount of fluids
  • Exercise (7)
These are just a few bedtime techniques you can use to get better sleep.

What Are the Different Sleep Disorders?

For others, sleep can be hard to come by even after establishing a sleep routine. Consider seeking medical advice at this point.

Professional sleep organizations from around the world such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the European Sleep Research Society, the Japanese Society of Sleep Research, and the Latin America Sleep Society have combined their knowledge to create the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD). The most recent 3rd edition shows that sleep disorders are categorized into 6 different classifications: (8)

The ICSD Sleep Disorder Categories (9)

1. Insomnia

The ISCD defines insomnia as “a repeated difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation, or quality that occurs despite adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep, and results in some form of daytime impairment.”

a. Chronic insomnia disorder
b. Short-term insomnia disorder

2. Sleep-related breathing disorders

Disorders caused by an obstruction of the airways and a lack of breathing effort.

a. Sleep apnea
b. Sleep-related hypoventilation disorder
c. Sleep-related hypoxemia disorder
d. Sleep-related hypoventilation disorders
e. Isolated symptoms (snoring)

3. Central disorders of hypersomnolence

The primary complaint of those who suffer from hypersomnolence is daytime drowsiness not caused by disturbed sleep or misguided circadian rhythms.

a. Narcolepsy
b. Kleine-Levin Syndrome
c. Insufficient sleep syndrome
d. Hypersomnia

4. Circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders

Circadian rhythm disorders can be characterized by a disruption or abrupt change to the normal circadian rhythm, which in turn causes individuals to have daytime drowsiness.

a. Shift work disorder
b. Jet lag disorder
c. Irregular sleep-wake rhythm

5. Parasomnias

Every patient suffering from parasomnias experiences some type of involuntary movement during sleep. These disorders are classified by the type of sleep they affect: NRM sleep, REM sleep, or other parasomnias.

a. Exploding head syndrome
b. Nightmare disorder
c. REM sleep behavior disorder
d. Sleepwalking/talking

6. Sleep-related movement disorders

Small, often repeated movements that disturb the sleep of the patient and the patient’s partner characterize this class.

a. Restless leg syndrome
b. Sleep-related leg cramps
c. Sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder

I hope you enjoyed this article on how to get a great night sleep. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for more practical advice on building a healthy life.


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