A 2016 study by the CDC found that one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. In fact, in our workaholic society, shortchanging sleep is almost celebrated. It’s somehow a badge of honor, a sign that we are so busy, active, social, and desirable that we have no time to waste. This could not be further from the truth. Sleep is not laziness: It’s a vital part of survival.
The right amount of sleep for the average adult is around seven to nine hours, but for many of us, we’re lucky if we can rest easy for five or six. It’s impossible to keep up with the Joneses with looming deadlines from our hustle-culture society and our ever-busy family and personal lives. While sleep is often the first thing to fall to the wayside, it shouldn’t be. It should be the number one thing we prioritize, as sleep is essential to every physiological system in our body.
Think you’re sleeping enough? You probably aren’t. Here are the signs of sleep deprivation and how to improve your sleep.
Signs of Sleep Deprivation
When we think of a sleep-deprived individual, what characteristics come to mind? Do they have heavy eyelids? Are they distracted, irritable, or lacking focus? Are they nodding off during meetings or falling asleep at their desk?
If you’re like most people, you’re probably saying yes to all of these things. While these are signs of sleep deprivation, there’s more to it. In fact, an individual might appear perfectly normal on five or six hours of sleep, but that doesn’t mean their internal systems aren’t suffering the consequences.
Matthew Walker, PhD, shares this passage in his bestselling book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.
After thirty years of intensive research, we can now answer many of the questions posed earlier. The recycle rate of a human being is around sixteen hours. After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours. Three full nights of recovery sleep (i.e., more nights than a weekend) are insufficient to restore performance back to normal levels after a week of short sleeping. Finally, the human mind cannot accurately sense how sleep-deprived it is when sleep-deprived.
As Dr. Walker explains, the human mind is so exhausted when sleep deprived that it doesn’t comprehend just how deprived it is. Western culture is to blame for human beings not sleeping as nature intended them to. With so many distractions, we’ve broken the mold and developed our own system that is far from healthy. In fact, by depriving ourselves of sleep, we are setting ourselves up for failure with downstream illnesses and even premature death. Dr. Walker explains this in further detail.
The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.
This is a wake-up call for each and every one of us. While sleep pattern analysis is one way to measure your duration of sleep and whether or not it is sufficient, here are some other signs that hint at sleep deprivation:
- Moodiness and irritability
- Worsened anxiety and depression
- A loss of productivity and performance
- A loss of creativity
- An inability to reason or focus
- An insatiable appetite and weight gain
- An uneven complexion in the skin and worsened appearance
- Worsened judgment and teamwork
- Erectile dysfunction and a decrease in sexual performance
- Daytime drowsiness
If you or someone you know exhibits one or many of these signs and symptoms, it’s time to act. While sleep isn’t a bank with the ability to gain credit (sleep) or pay off debt (lack of sleep), you can adopt a healthier routine and get back to your optimal level of health and wellness over time. Sleep is nature’s best defense against a host of comorbidities, so it’s time we maximize on this and take our individual sleep health more seriously.
How to Improve Your Sleep
Consider this scenario: You have a sleep-deprived individual drowning in overtime, working late hours to finish tasks, coming home past bedtime, and repeating this day-in and day-out. This cycle is a constant loop of negativity, poor productivity, poor sleep, and overall poor living.
Now consider this scenario: You have an individual who comes to work feeling refreshed, is productive, gets the same amount of work finished in far fewer hours, has time after work to exercise and prioritize healthy eating, goes to bed early, and rises and repeats the positive cycle of good living.
While it’s a challenge to break the destructive loop and kick-start the good, it’s worth it. Positive habit-building is essential to an efficient, productive, successful, and happier lifestyle. That’s the bottom line.
As Dr. Walker shares in his book, “When sleep is abundant, minds flourish. When it is deficient, they don’t.” Don’t settle for anything less than proper and sufficient sleep. Your mind and body will thank you by functioning at an optimal and maximal level each day. In addition to getting the right amount of sleep, here are some more tips to improve your sleep health:
- Pick up some relaxing hobbies such as yoga, meditation, reading, or light stretching.
- Create a calming environment for bedtime with candles or a diffuser, soft lighting, and gentle music.
- Limit the use of electronics for at least an hour leading up to sleep.
- Entertain having a light snack or enjoying a cup of noncaffeinated tea to encourage sleepiness.
Having read up, do you still think you’re sleeping enough? Thankfully, watching out for these warning signs and using these methods can better prepare you for a restful night of quality sleep. Consider this and take action to ensure you are in the best possible position to sleep and live well.