By. Garrett Guzman
Did you know? According to a recent Gallup poll, the average American now gets greater than one hour LESS sleep per night than he/she did fifty years ago? And worse, nearly 50% of Americans say they would feel better if they got more sleep (not surprising). Long story short, lack of sleep has become perhaps America’s greatest epidemic, and perhaps even greater than our poor nutritional and exercise habits (debatable, I know; but let me explain).
While there are outliers, many of the most “successful” people maintain a solid sleep schedule. For example, Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft), Tim Cook (CEO of Apple), Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon), and Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter, CEO of Square) all get no less than 7 hours of sleep per night. So, how much sleep should we be getting? While 7-8 hour of sound sleep per night seems to be the optimal amount for most individuals, there are some individuals who can do with less or who simply need more. The most basic question you can ask yourself in the morning when you wake up is “Do I feel energized and ready to take on the day ahead of me?” If you can answer that question with a resounding yes, you have likely found your sweet spot for sleep quality and quantity. If you answer that question with a “HECK NO,” you likely need to create more time for sleep, and perhaps dive deeper into your sleep routine to improve its quality.
So, what are the benefits of getting adequate sleep (and high-quality sleep)? I believe Healthfinder breaks it down best on why getting enough sleep is so important. People who get optimal sleep get sick less often (better immunity), stay at a healthy weight (less bodyfat), lowered risk of chronic health diseases (specifically obesity, diabetes, and heart disease), reduced stress and improved mood (lowered risk for depression and anxiety), think more clearly and perform better at school and/or work, maintain healthier relationships, and make better decisions and avoid injuries (yes, sleep deprivation dramatically increases injury rates from all causes).
But what if you simply have trouble sleeping? At this point, you investigate your sleep routine. First, let’s look at health conditions, which may include “untreated or poorly managed” stress or anxiety, pain, or sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or insomnia. Could it perhaps also be tied to medications, caffeine, or alcohol consumption? Second, could your trouble falling or staying asleep be tied to your sleep hygiene? Let’s look at the questions below:
Do you avoid the intake of stressful activity prior to bed (ex: work, news, etc.)?
Do you turn off electronics (or at least block blue light) for at least two to three hours prior to bed?
Do you avoid vigorous exercise for at least two to three hours prior to bed (light exercise/stretching appears to be beneficial for most)?
Do you avoid heavy meals (and alcohol consumption) for at least two to three hours prior to bed?
Do you set the thermostat at the appropriate temperature (often between 60-67 degrees) for sleep?
Do you block out all light from your bedroom, or utilize a sleep mask at bedtime?
Do you utilize a sound machine (or heavy fan, etc.) at bedtime?
While there are others, I believe these are often the most important and those which need to be addressed first.
In closing, if all the information I shared with you above wasn’t enough, there are some final benefits I might point out that may assist you in improving your sleep. Did you know that optimal sleep dramatically improves both body composition change (i.e. fat loss and/or muscle gain) and enhanced libido (i.e. better sex drive)? Who doesn’t want to look better and have a better sex life? And I don’t mean “kinda sorta,” I mean dramatically. While working with health and fitness clients for greater than 15 years, I have found that sleep deprivation is often the number one reason someone either is unable to shed pounds, or halts in their progress towards losing weight, ABOVE nutrition and exercise. And if you have low libido, please, please, please look at your sleep first. I can’t sell it anymore, just get your zzz’s and watch your life improve in every facet!