So, why is sleep important? I bet you have heard that you should get about 8 hours of sleep a night. In reality, the amount of sleep that each individual requires varies and it depends with age. For most of you, 7-9 hours should be your target.
People generally, underestimate the amount they need. While there are some people who naturally require only 6 hours of sleep or even less, chances are that is not you!
Doctors are taught in medical school how important sleep is for health, cognitive and physical function yet they are still some of the worst offenders when it comes to depriving themselves of sleep.
So, rather than being a hypocrite and telling you that you to get more sleep I will instead show you how to make those hours in bed go further.
Also read: 13 Amazing benefits of waking up at 5:00 AM
But for the sake of completeness let me briefly remind you why sleep is so crucial and why sleep deprivation is bad.
Long term sleep deprivation has been linked to some serious health consequences that you do not want. These include:
Your cognitive function declines as well. Sleep deprivation has been strongly linked with decreases in attention capacity and working memory. There are other cognitive functions that shall decline such as:
We also know that sleep is crucial for memory consolidation meaning making things actually stick therefore it’s not surprising that sleep deprivation also affects your long-term memory.
In a fascinating study(1,2) conducted at Stanford researchers subjected college basketball players to a 5-7 week period of increased sleep. Participants attained as much sleep each night as possible; attempting to spend 10 hours in bed. And the scientists then measured their physical performance.
After the sleep extension period; subjects had faster sprints, improved shooting accuracy, and scored better on assessments of physical and mental well-being.
So, now you know that health cognitive and physical ramifications of not getting enough sleep. But let’s face it you and I both know that you will not be getting those 7-9 hours of sleep every night. So, what can we do about it?
One of the most important concepts to sleeping better is understanding that quality is more important than quantity. This means that getting 6-7 hours of high-quality sleep will do more good than getting 8-9 hours of low-quality sleep.Studies have shown that average sleep quality is more important than sleep quantity in terms of health, balance, life satisfaction, feelings of tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion. Click To Tweet
You are probably already getting disturbed during your sleep and you do not even realize it. Studies have shown that nocturnal noise particularly traffic noise can fragment your sleep even if you do not wake up or acknowledge it.
It changes the amount of time spent in different sleep stages; increasing the amount spent in shallow sleep and decreasing the amount of sleep in deeper slow wave or REM sleep. This has significant effects on sleep quality and recuperation.
Even though people are unconscious, and do not notice these sounds while asleep, they can differentiate between nights with low and high degrees of noise exposure because they feel better after quiet nights.
Now, in my own life, I have noticed periods where I felt amazing after 6 or 7 hours of sleep and times when I felt slow and groggy after 8 hours or more hours of sleep. The secret was again – sleep quality.
Maintaining a routine and regular time schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time made a huge difference for me. Sleeping in, generally resulted in poor sleep for two reasons.
A simple solution to these problems would be earplugs and a facemask or black-out curtains.
Also read: How to lose weight while you sleep
Sleep occurs in stages. From stage 1, stage 2, stage3, stage 4 and REM– stands for rapid eye movement which is when dreaming occurs. When you first fall asleep you are in early stages of sleep and over time you go deeper. Having cycled through them- spending more and more time in deeper sleep.
Because of this power naps should only be a maximum of 20 or 30 minutes. This is long enough to get you into stage 2 sleep which helps you boost your memory and creativity.
Longer naps are subject to increase sleep inertia, meaning it sucks waking up. If you nap for 30-60 minutes, you will enter slow wave sleep which is good for decision making but you will wake up groggy. Rem sleep occurs at 60-90 minutes but again, you will wake up groggy.
Therefore, shorter power naps are your best bet. Taking naps that are too long won’t only leave you feeling groggy but will also decrease the sleep debt that is necessary for sleep onset. That means that it will be more difficult for you to fall asleep at night
Another interesting concept is coffee naps. Here is how they work. Drink a cup of coffee, then take a nap for 20 minutes. By the time you are waking up, the coffee has been absorbed by the small intestines passed into your blood and it’s carrying out its effects on your brain.
Some studies have even shown that coffee naps demonstrate improved cognitive performance compared to naps alone.
While coffee naps are a good idea, consuming caffeine before bedtime is not going to do you any favours. Caffeine shortens phases 3 and 4 of the sleep cycle which are deeper phases of sleep.Studies have shown that having caffeine even 6 hours before bedtime has a significant effect on sleep disturbance. Click To Tweet
Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster but the quality of sleep suffers. It does technically increase slow-wave delta sleep patterns which is a good thing but it also increases alpha activity which generally occurs when you are resting quietly.
Combined delta and alpha wave activity in the brain translates to poor sleep. It also blocks REM sleep which is considered to be the most restorative type of sleep.
In addition, it also doesn’t help it is a diuretic (A diuretic is any substance that promotes diuresis, the increased production of urine.) and you will be waking up to use the bathroom more frequently.
Also read: 5 Things you should not do in the morning
What are your thoughts on power naps and coffee naps? Have you tried them? I would love to hear your comments below. I hope you found this article useful. If you like the article, make sure you press that like button and also share.