Probably a consequence of too much turkey on Thanksgiving, I feel like I could use a couple more hours of sleep at the moment. How can I wake up tired, “puffy eyed” and groggy, when I slept a solid 8 hours last night? I remember my parents when they were my age telling me “as I get older, I find I need less sleep.” I also know that I work with a few highly energetic, hard-charging colleagues, who pride themselves on the fact that they only need 5 or 6 hours of sleep. I’ve blogged on the importance of sleep before, but how I feel this morning, in conjunction with my other posts on “aging” makes me want to drop a little knowledge for your consideration. File these away as absolute truths if you will:
You Need to Sleep – How’s that for a mind-blowing opening factoid for my list. Obviously, my degrees were well earned. On a serious note, there’s not a health guru, dietician, spa manager, or other “health & wellness” related professional on the planet that will leave this one off their list. To reap the benefits of your workout, diet, etc., you must get enough sleep so that your body can repair itself at a cellular level. And you only need to watch a couple of episodes of the TV show “Survivor” to understand sleeps role in psychological health, but I’ll save that diatribe for a future post.
Don’t Fool Yourself (At Least if You’re Human) – I’ve reviewed a lot of research regarding sleep and how much we need as humans, so that we rest and recharge. As with most research there are variances in the findings. However, there are a few powerful commonalities across studies. One such commonality is the myth that some people can function perfectly on 4-5 hours of sleep. The fact is they may function quite well after sleeping only 4-5 hours on occasion, but they’re still hurting themselves in the process, and over time it will catch up to them (physically and mentally). While a few famous short sleepers like Madonna, Bill Clinton and Margaret Thatcher have made the rest of us seem a bit inept, the experts claim these individuals simply “don’t (or didn’t) know how tired they really are (were).” Thomas Roth, Ph.D., sleep researcher at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, says that too little sleep is simply bad for your health. It can make you ineffective (it impairs performance, judgment, and the ability to pay attention), sick (it weakens your immune system), and overweight. In fact, women who slept five hours or less a night were a third more likely to gain 30 pounds or more over 16 years than women who slept seven hours, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study.
Don’t be A Rumpelstiltskin – Research has shown that each person’s “perfect amount of sleep” depends on the person, how tired he/she is, and a number of other factors. The range for most people is 7-9 hours of restful sleep per night in order to reap all of the necessary benefits. While research has consistently demonstrated problems with too little sleep, there’s also a lot of research demonstrating problems with sleeping too much. You don’t have to sleep 25 years, as Rumpelstiltskin did in the fairy tale to have a problem (although I would also point out how bad he looked after sleeping so long). The research has not demonstrated a causal relationship between excessive sleep and health issues, but there are a number of studies in which excess sleep and some significant health issues correlate strongly. Consistently sleeping in excess of 9 or 10 hours may be a symptom of an underlying physical or mental illness. Excess sleep no longer provides you the benefits your body needs, and you’re then cutting into alert, “being human” time, and the chance to move your body (which it needs).
“Sleep Camels” Don’t Exist– A dear friend and former colleague of mine, Howard, was referred to on multiple occasions by my organization’s CEO as a “Sleep Camel.” This was because Howard could go incredibly long periods of time with little/no sleep, and then all at once (e.g. on a 14 hour flight) he would sleep the entire time. I will note that Howard always had a “nutty professor” quality that people found endearing and funny, and having seen him a number of times recently (post retirement), a well rested Howard is far less nutty (albeit still funny). I think it was sleep deprivation! The bottom-line is that you can’t push yourself all week when it comes to sleep and then “make it all up over the weekend.” Harvard sleep expert Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., refers to the pattern of starving your body of sleep all week and then trying to binge over the weekend “sleep bulimia” (check out Deep Into Sleep from Harvard Magazine). In fact, this pattern is very unhealthy. It upsets your circadian rhythms and makes it even harder to get refreshing sleep.
Sleepy yet? Take some time and ensure you’re getting enough, deep sleep, so that you reap all of the benefits – – and feel much better.
Small steps add up!!!