We’ve all heard the adages, get a good night’s sleep, I’ll sleep on it, hitting the hay, but most people underestimate just how important sleep is to our health and wellbeing. The CDC reports that, “sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.”
Blue Light Technology
Just about all of our electronic devices emit blue light. Blue light tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daylight. Of course we’re often on our phones and laptops in bed, finishing work, online shopping, making dinner plans for tomorrow, or just scrolling through our Instagram feed one last time before we close our eyes. “Exposure to blue light can suppress melatonin, which allows you to transition to sleep,” said Alyssa Cairns, PhD. “If it’s suppressed, you are not able to fall asleep as easily.” She recommends putting devices down at least one hour before bedtime.
Apparently We’ve Actually Gotten Busier
Medical Director of the Center for Sleep & Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase MD Helene A. Emsellem, MD says, “I see more people trying to cram more into a 24-hour day more aggressively than they did 20 to 25 years ago – there is a huge increase in people carrying two jobs, working more hours, and more focus on trying to find time to exercise.” She goes on to say that those waking up early to work out are often not going to bed early enough to make up for it.
The Impact On Your Health
Possible consequences of averaging less than about 6 hours per night include higher risk of dementia, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, infections, and depression. Phyllis C. Zee, MD, PhD says, “On the other hand, overweight and obesity increases the risk for poor sleep quality, in part due to sleep apnea.” Sleep apnea is a disorder in which the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, causing repeated pauses in breathing that last for at least 10 seconds, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). When this happens, your brain wakes you up briefly (so briefly that you don’t remember) to reopen your airway, and this repeated pattern of interruption can limit your ability to get the deep, restful sleep you need. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and even glaucoma. But adequate sleep doesn’t just mean quantity, it also means quality.
Quality over Quantity
There are four stages that the body cycles through anywhere from 3-5 times a night; stage one, otherwise known as REM (rapid eye movement), stage two, stage 3 and stage 4 otherwise known as deep sleep. A high-quality sleep is defined as multiple cycles of REM, with each cycle becoming longer than the last. The chart below is an example of what a healthy, full night of sleep should look like. Sleep apnea prevents your body from undulating in these cycles, and therefore does not provide that quality sleep that your body needs to maintain good health.
How to Get More (and Better) Sleep
Try keeping your weekdays and weekends on a similar schedule, within an hour of one another. If you do not get a good night’s sleep one night, don’t try to make up for it by going to bed early the next, as this can confuse your body further. Instead, try taking a short 20-30 minute nap sometime in the early afternoon. Stop using electronic devices (including TV) about an hour before bed-time. Try reading, drawing or journaling before bed to wind down. If you absolutely must watch TV, make sure your device is on some sort of timer so that it does not run continuously throughout the night. Your brain ‘pays attention’ to the noises and stimulus around you while you’re asleep and if constant stimulus is present, your brain will not cycle through REM properly.