Recent research on sleep finds that consistency and balance are key when it comes to a good night’s rest—and sleep deprivation could mean some serious health problems down the road.
A lot on your plate? Don’t let sleep fall by the wayside in the process.
Study after study finds that sleep and health go hand in hand, and failing to keep proper sleep habits in mind could be a recipe for disaster. Read on for some recent insights:
The risk of ill health effects. If you’re not making time for at least six hours of sleep every night—or if you’re sleeping in too much!—you could be hurting your heart and causing ill effects. A study in the European Heart Journal found that the optimal amount of time for sleep was six to eight hours, and daytime naps for those who slept more than six hours per night were associated with an increase in major cardiovascular events. (On the plus side, if you haven’t been getting six hours of sleep, the nap had no negative effect.) Beyond heart health, sleep deprivation can have negative impacts on your mental health and is often associated with issues like depression and anxiety disorders.
Better regular sleep makes it easier to bounce back when your schedule changes. Sometimes an all-nighter is inevitable, but as long as it’s not a regular affair, there’s a good chance you can make it work. The National Sleep Foundation’s recent Sleep in America poll found that the most disciplined sleepers did better putting in the occasional late night than those who put in all-nighters on the regular. But it’s still better to maintain a consistent schedule to avoid negative physical and emotional effects. “These data suggest that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule has a positive and protective effect against certain consequences on occasions when we need to deviate from our normal sleep schedules by an hour or more,” the report said [PDF].
No weekend catch-up sessions. Conventional thinking that you can use the weekend to “catch up” on rest might end up getting you in trouble, according to recent research on the topic. Researchers from the University of Colorado found that people tended to eat more when they slept less—and increasing sleep levels by an hour on weekends while cutting down on weekend eating didn’t make up for the bad habits during the week. “Our findings suggest that the common behavior of burning the candle during the week and trying to make up for it on the weekend is not an effective health strategy,” senior author Kenneth Wright of the university’s Sleep and Chronobiology Lab told NBC News.
Is policy the solution? In a recent op-ed for The Hill, UCLA public health and pediatrics professor Jonathan Fielding, M.D., warned that making changes on your end can only go so far to help solve sleep issues, and cultural changes need to be considered. This could include ending the practice of daylight saving time, something that has been discussed in Congress of late. “Skimping on sleep or sleeping too long is like cheating at Solitaire: It only hurts you,” Fielding wrote. “[F]ixing our own sleep hygiene is one issue; fixing the cultural sleep problem, another.”
If you’re looking for some good pointers on sleep habits, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has a series of recommendations, including going to bed only when you’re sleepy, setting a reasonably early bedtime, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, and ensuring both your bedtime routine and your bedroom are relaxed. (Oh, skip the coffee and alcohol if you’re about to sleep.)
Long story short: If you want to be at your fullest abilities during the day, don’t skimp on the sleep.