Some people wish scientists invented a magic pill that would enable them to do without sleep at all. When a person wants to manage as many things as possible they often forget about their body’s need to recover. Business owners and people who are passionate about their work will agree: such notions as “weekends” and “vacations” simply disappear for them. They become dismissive of their sleep. Three or four hours, then back on track.
This affects people’s health, productivity and even their level of happiness. Constant lack of sleep is like a loan with a high interest rate, you take it out from your body. Why is it so important to get enough sleep, how many hours of sleep do we need and how to fall asleep quicker?
How many hours do you need to get a good night’s sleep?
Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 6 hours a day are more often prone to obesity, nervous disorders, smoking and alcohol. It’s interesting that oversleeping — more than 9 hours a day — also has an impact.
There are those who need only 4-5 hours of sleep a day, but you are unlikely to be one of them. These people make up only 5% of the world’s population. Famous examples: Thomas Edison (that’s why he was so keen to invent the light bulb), Napoleon Bonaparte. Others need 10-11 hours of sleep. That’s how long Albert Einstein slept.
Scientist believe that 7-9 hours of sleep is preferable for 95% of people between the ages of 18 and 65. For those who are older than 65 the norm will be 7-8 hours.
It all depends on the person and you need to find out what your individual sleep needs are. Even if you have always thought that 7 hours of sleep give you a perfect energy boost, it might turn out that additional 30 minutes will increase your productivity during the day by 10-15%. You need to discover how much time you need to spend in bed.
How bad is lack of sleep?
Chronic sleep deprivation poses health risks:
- Stress hormone levels go up and there is a higher risk of heart disease
- Lack of sleep impairs concentration, memory and brain activity. The brain ages faster
- You become moody and irritable
- The immune system weakens which increases the risk of various diseases. You catch a cold easier.
When you sleep your brain recovers, and the information that you received during the day is processed. For example, students who have healthy sleep study better.
Lack of sleep accumulates. It only seems that productivity doesn’t slow down. It’s an illusion – the brain starts to malfunction and brainwork requires more time. Roughly speaking, if you don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, the only thing that you could do effectively is monotonous physical labour, but not mental activity.
Besides, a tired person doesn’t notice how they fall asleep. And while it could be funny (but not terrible) at a meeting, if you are behind the wheel — it would be a disaster.
What happens when we sleep?
Sleep consists of different stages:
- REM (or paradoxical) sleep — during this stage we dream and can be awakened easily.
- Slow-wave (or deep) sleep — during this stage the brain and the body recover.
The phases recur, each cycle is 90 minutes long. An average person passes through 5 cycles — the 7.5-8 hours of sleep that scientists recommend.
If you wake up during the REM phase you get up easier and feel refreshed. That’s when smart alarm clocks wake you up. Awakening during the deep sleep phase is harder, you want to sleep more and are less energetic.
Life hack: if you don’t have much time, sleep through at least one full cycle (1.5 hours). This will allow you to hold out during the day. But don’t do it too often. If you have only an hour of free time, it’s better to have a 15-20 minute nap without falling into the deep sleep phase so that you don’t feel exhausted later.
Processes that occur during every sleep cycle are still subject to research. It is commonly believed that deep sleep hours are more important. During that time your muscles, body and brain recover and all the organs sync up.
But slumber is important too. The brain continues to process visual imagery, but it’s obviously not the eyes that are its source. Presumably, during this phase the emotions experienced during the day are interpreted and memories harmonize. This is in line with Freud’s idea that dreams have meanings.
For example, almost half of newborn babies’ 16 hour sleep is the REM phase. When the central nervous system fully matures REM sleep takes up about 1.5 hours each night — same with adults.
To sum up: REM sleep is good for psychological health while deep sleep recovers the body.
How to fall asleep fast?
Here are some easy steps that will come in handy if you experience slight sleeping problems. If you have chronic insomnia you’ll need to search for it’s cause deeper, of course. Try out our Preventive care plan: together with doctors (somnologist, neurologists, therapist) our health analyst will examine your physical and mental state and will help you normalize your sleep schedule.
Take melatonin before you go to sleep
You can buy it in pharmacies in a tablet form. Taking 1 mg sub-lingually when you are already in bed is enough to fall asleep quickly.
Melatonin is a natural hormone which controls the body’s biological clock. In a healthy body its level goes up in the evening when it’s time to sleep.
Electric lighting, TV, smartphone and laptop displays — all this tricks the body. The brain thinks it’s still afternoon and produces less melatonin. With age the amount of melatonin decreases, people start having problems falling asleep and experience nocturnal awakenings.
However: taking melatonin pills frequently decreases the amounts of the hormone that the body produces naturally. After taking a high dose of the drug people feel sleepy the next day. That’s why it’s only good in rare situations, such as jet lag or severe stress.
Turn your computer off and put your smartphone away
One hour before going to sleep, stop staring into the screen already. Blue light affects the amount of melatonin your body produces. Data noise and Internet surfing don’t let you relax. Better remember all the things you’ve accomplished during the day, pat yourself on the back or read a book.
Don’t eat for 3-4 hours before going to bed
It’s universal advice but it works. If you go to bed on a full stomach falling asleep is difficult, you don’t digest well and excess calories make you gain weight. You really want to eat? Allow yourself something light.
Clear your mind
In the evenings your mind is often a complete mental clutter. There are two ways to declutter your mind in 10 minutes. Free up your mental space!
Write about it
Take a piece of paper and a pen (yep, just like in the good old days) and write down everything that comes to your mind. It can be a description of your day or plans for tomorrow. 10 minutes is enough to transfer all your intrusive thoughts on paper.
There is a simple and effective technique which is very easy to master. Find a comfortable sitting position. You can lie down if you want, you’ll fall asleep faster that way. Keep your back straight, close your eyes, focus on breathing. Be aware of it: breath in — breath out. Concentrate, focus all your attention on this process. You’ll have different thoughts rolling around in your head. Take notice of them, but get back to breathing. Let your thoughts come and go without affecting you. 10-15 minutes is enough. Such short meditation helps you clear your mind and relax. In 2-3 weeks’ time you’ll be less distracted, you will improve your concentration skills.
Paul McCartney, Steve Jobs, Madonna, David Lynch, Charles Bukowski, Martin Scorsese and Moby recommend meditating. It’s worth a try!
Ventilate your room
If you regularly find it hard to fall asleep and then wake up exhausted the reason might lie in the closed window. Even though the concentration of oxygen in your room may seem normal, in actuality you might be experiencing hypoxia. The more carbon dioxide there is in the air the higher the acidity of your blood is, which negatively affects all processes in your body. Ventilate your room regularly and try leaving the window open. It’s better to get under a warm blanket and sleep in a cool room.
Sleep is health
Stress, annoyance, memory and attention problems are all minor symptoms of constant sleep deprivation. Sleep is important for everything — your level of happiness and productivity, goal achieving and motivation, your health and normal functioning of your body.
Check the advices from the sleep experts – How Technology kills your Sleep and What you can do about it.
And you can check it for yourself.
Do an experiment: install our Welltory app and a productivity program called RescueTime. During two or three weeks measure the amount of sleep you get, your productivity during working on the computer, your energy and stress levels in the morning. Try sleeping 6, 7 and 8 hours and then look up the statistics in your personal account. You will notice how your productivity and energy changes during the day depending on how much sleep you get.