Sleep on it

Americans don’t get enough sleep. And that’s really unfortunate because sleep has so many benefits besides the obvious one of avoiding grogginess. Getting enough sleep affects our decision-making, our ability to accept change, our temper, our immune system, our sexual health – and that’s just the short list. It also helps us prevent not just one but all kinds of cancer make us five times less likely to develop depression, and half as likely to die of heart disease.

While you sleep, your brain sifts through everything you experienced throughout the day and decides what to do with it. It cleans out your day’s inbox – throws out the “spam”, “archives” the memories it thinks you might need, and “stars” the really important stuff (if you’ve seen Inside Out you probably know this already). But it’s not just maintenance – your brain is also sifting through your experiences and making connections in order to solve problems that you struggled with during the day. That’s right – you’re productive while you sleep!

With all this good stuff happening while you snooze, it’s a bummer that so many people think they are too busy to invest precious hours in a good night’s sleep. But to function at your best, you need to allow your body to consistently get the rest it needs. The only way you can truly learn your personal sleep requirements is to consistently see how long it takes for you to wake up when not using an alarm, but luckily scientists have put together a handy cheat sheet that works for the vast majority of people:

Age Daily sleep
Babies 14-16 hours
Toddlers 12-14 hours
Children 10-12 hours
Teenagers 8-9 hours
Adults 7-8 hours

These are the average hours of sleep you should get each day. You may think that you can always catch up on the weekend, but it’s the streak of days spent getting the appropriate amount of sleep that helps protect your body from sleep deprivation related illnesses. The only remedy for sleep deprivation is to get enough sleep each day – it’s that simple. We do know that it can be hard to get a good night’s though, so we’ve put together some tips to improve your sleep schedule.

1. Regulate your sleep schedule. Even on weekends, try to go to bed at the same time so you and your body don’t have to make the decision every night on when to go to bed. Of course, this means waking up at the same time every day, too.

2. A nap is better than sleeping in. When you go to bed late (let’s be honest, it happens), take a nap rather than sleeping past your regular wake-up time. This way you maintain that same sleep schedule (sort of) and you make up for lost sleep.

3. Nap early in the day and shoot for 30 minutes. Those 30 minutes include an estimated 12 minutes to fall asleep – the clock starts when you lay down. It sounds brutal, but this way you’ll still be able to sleep at your regular bedtime.

4. Increase light exposure during the day. Your body will accept this as a signal that this is “wake time”.

5. Stay away from screens at night. Screens also signal “wake time,” which isn’t great when bedtime is coming up.

6. Avoid caffeine. Duh.

7. Eat well and exercise. C’mon guys. This is not only for your sleep health but also for your general health. Just don’t eat carbs or do a heavy workout within the 2 hours before bed, or you might have a hard time falling asleep.

While it’s true that you’ll sleep when you’re dead, it’s also true that you’ll likely die sooner if you don’t get enough sleep. Don’t skimp on sleep. Sleep is the last thing in your schedule you should cut if you want long-term health and well-being.

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