We often hear that sleep is important, but that leads to several questions:
• How much sleep should we be getting?
• What if we have less sleep than we should?
• Can you have too much sleep?
• Is an afternoon nap a good thing or a bad thing?
The Harvard Medical School in the US says:
The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to eight hours of sleep for people over age 64.
Nearly 50% of us sleep less than these recommendations. That’s worrisome, because the average person has worse health outcomes (including more obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and shorter life) if he or she sleeps less or more than these ranges, on average.
Why do we need this much sleep? In recent years, we’ve learned that during sleep, waste material is flushed out of our brains. For example, the waste material includes proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease. It’s much less clear why people who sleep more than recommended also have worse health outcomes.
In “The End of Alzheimer’s”, Doctor Bredesen asserts that there are 36 ways that the brain can be stressed, leading to Alzheimer’s Disease. One of these is lack of sleep. He recommends 7 to 8 hours per night.
In “How Not to Die”, Doctor Greger reports that in a US study, people had a higher risk of a stroke when they slept 6 hours or less, OR 9 hours or more. The lowest risk was 7 to 8 hours.
So how to get that sleep?
If you find it difficult to get to sleep, or to stay asleep for the 7 to 8 hours, then here’s some helpful advice from the National Health Service:
• Keep regular sleep hours. Going to bed when you feel tired and getting up at roughly the same time helps teach your body to sleep better. Try to avoid napping where possible.
• Confront sleeplessness. If you are lying awake unable to sleep, do not force it. Get up and do something relaxing for a bit, and return to bed when you feel sleepier.
• Create a restful environment. Dark, quiet and cool environments generally make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Watch our video for tips on how to sleep better.
• Write down your worries. If you often lie awake worrying about tomorrow, set aside time before bed to make a list for the next day. This can help put your mind at rest.
• Move more, sleep better. Being active can help you sleep better. A walk or yoga can help, but avoid vigorous activity like running near bedtime if it affects your sleep.
• Put down the pick-me-ups. Caffeine and alcohol can stop you falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try to cut down on alcohol and avoid caffeine close to bedtime.
They have a couple of useful videos, to help with all this.
The US Sleep Foundation has these tips for falling asleep:
• Carve out at least 30 minutes of wind-down time before bed in which you do something relaxing, such as read a book. Dim the lights in the house slightly for an hour or so before bed.
• Disconnect from close-range electronic devices such as laptops, phones, and tablets, as the light from their screens can alert the brain and make it harder to fall asleep.
• In order to calm your mind, do a breathing or relaxation exercise.
• If you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and return to another space in the house to do a relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music. Lying in bed awake can create an unhealthy link between your sleeping environment and wakefulness. Instead, you want your bed to conjure sleepy thoughts and feelings only.
• Wake up at the same time every day. Even if you have a hard time falling asleep and feel tired in the morning, try to get up at the same time (weekends included). This can help adjust your body’s clock and aid in falling asleep at night.
And what about taking a daytime nap?
The Sleep Foundation advises: Naps can be very helpful.
Sleeping for a short time can make you more alert and energetic–this might be critical to your work or school productivity, or to your ability to take care of a child during the day. Most people feel refreshed after a nap that lasts approximately 20 minutes. Longer naps can leave you feeling groggy, because they require waking up from a deeper sleep. It’s also important not to nap late in the day because this can make it hard to fall asleep at night. Even a short nap in the early evening can interfere with bedtime.
Harvard Medical School: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
US Sleep Foundation: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/treatment/what-do-when-you-cant-sleep
Link to my post on “Alzheimer’s Disease”
Link to my post “How Not to Die”
Link to my post on “Stroke“