If you’re feeling tired most of the time, you’re not alone. We live in a 24/7 world of information overload. It overwhelms our senses and contributes to exhaustion.
So it’s not surprising that we live in a sleep-deprived society. But the consequences of that are shocking. Matthew Walker, PhD, says regularly sleeping less than six or seven hours a night is devastating to our health. He should know. He’s a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley and the Director of its Center for Human Sleep Science.
Walker shares the latest research on sleep in his New York Times best-selling book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. He details frightening examples of what happens to our bodies and brains when we don’t get enough sleep. His key findings are highlighted in his April 2019 TED Talk: Sleep is Your Superpower.
Basically he says that a lack of sleep weakens our immune system, more than doubling our risk of cancer. It’s a key factor in determining if we will develop Alzheimer’s disease. It disrupts blood sugar levels so much that it leads to a pre-diabetic condition. Short sleeping also sets us on a path toward heart disease and/or heart attack and stroke. It’s a proven recipe for weight gain and obesity. And it contributes to all major psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Walker concludes that the less we sleep, the shorter our life. And he shares 12 tips for healthy sleep from the National Institutes of Health:
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up the same time every day.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes on most days. But don’t do so two to three hours before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine. These stimulants disrupt healthy sleep.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. We may think a nightcap helps us relax for sleep. But heavy use keeps us in a light sleep and robs us of the very important and deeper REM or dream sleep.
- Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. The resulting indigestion interferes with sleep.
- If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt sleep. Some commonly prescribed heart, blood pressure, and asthma medications disrupt sleep. So do some over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies. We should ask our doctor or pharmacist if we can take them at other times of the day or early evening.
- Don’t take naps after 3 p.m. Late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
- Relax before bed. Unwind with something relaxing like reading or listening to music. Have a bedtime routine that’s calming.
- Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in our body temperature after a bath may help us feel sleepy. And the bath can help us to slow down and get ready for sleep.
- Make sure the bedroom is dark, cool, and gadget-free. We sleep better in a cool, dark environment without TVs, cell phones or computers.
- Have the right sunlight exposure. Try to spend at least 30 minutes each day in natural sunlight, since daylight is key to regulating sleep. Wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. Turn down the lights before bedtime.
- Don’t lie in bed awake. If we’re still awake after being in bed for more than 20 minutes or if we’re feeling anxious or worried, we should get out of bed and do a relaxing activity until we feel sleepy.