Sleep. We all need it, it’s as important as breathing, eating and drinking. Sleep allows our minds and bodies to recover from the stresses and pressures of the day, to order our thoughts and memories and process information. So why do we often neglect it? In the soaring hustle of modern life, growing families, demanding career paths and envious travel itineraries, we all live in a ‘so much to do and so little time’ shroud of energy and sleep often becomes wedged between more important things in our schedules. However, we are told time and time again by health professionals that sleep is the key to our physical and mental wellbeing, so why don’t we prioritize it?
Bats can sleep up to 20 hours a day, while giraffes need as little as 2 hours, and some species of whales are said to not sleep at all since they allow each hemisphere of their brain to take it in turns and therefore always remain awake. But how many hours of sleep do we humans need? It really depends on the age of the person, it can vary quite a lot from a seemingly low five hours up to a staggering 17.
According to the CDC, newborns need the most amount of sleep, while the elderly can get by on the least:
Unfortunately, it doesn’t just come down to the number of hours we are getting to rest in our beds at night, it is the quality of the sleep that can affect your wellbeing. The quantity of sleep suggested should be of high quality and if you find yourself in bed for that length of time, but struggling to drift off into a dream world or find yourself constantly tossing and turning and waking up throughout the night, you might find that you only end up getting around half the amount of sleep you should be.
One in three Americans suffers from a lack of sleep or high-quality sleep. This is detrimental to our health and can often lead to mood swings, lack of productivity at work and lack of motivation in general - all of which are clear pathways to more stern mental issues. Not only that, but disturbed or stunted sleep can increase your risk of developing more serious conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. It can also affect our mortality rates, which as a modern society who spends our time building high flying careers and watching our beautiful families evolve into their own, puts a real strain on time for us. The more strain we experience, the more pressure we feel to fit as much in as we can and push sleep further down the priority list.
As a general rule, if you find yourself waking up to the day and wanting to go back to bed for a nap just an hour or two later, you’re likely not getting enough sleep. Poor sleep can be influenced by several factors, including insomnia, apnea and chronic stress. However, more often than not, it comes down to poor sleeping habits.
Waking in the middle of the night to check your phone, sleeping late when you have had enough sleep, going to bed at different times every night, not spending any time outdoors or exercising and not taking care of your general wellbeing and stress levels are all things that lead to low-quality sleep and bad habits around self-care.
There are many ways we can improve our quality of sleep and take care of ourselves to ensure our stress levels are manageable and do not interfere with our mental and physical wellbeing negatively.