The day after pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam, attending a late night event, or taking a red-eye flight will give you a certain appreciation for a good night’s sleep.
We all seem to understand that our bodies need a basic amount of sleep, but what is the value of sleeping more or less, why is sleep even important, and what are some tips to get better shut-eye?
In earlier times, the concept of sleep may have been much different than we know it today. Historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a book; drawing from 16 years of research shows that during the 14th through 16th centuries people may have slept in two 4 hour increments; not a single 8 hour block people tend to strive for today. This process of sleeping 4 hours at a time was referred to as “first and second sleep.”
Ekirch’s research went on to say in the late 17th century the trend began to shift to more of a common day 8 hour block of sleep. In fact, during the early 1900’s the concept of first and second sleep was mostly erased from social norms.
Reasons Why Sleep is Important
Regardless of whether you get rest all at once or in smaller amounts throughout the day, why is sleep important?
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says that getting a good night’s sleep improves learning. The value of sleep for your brain is that during rest, your brain forms new pathways to help you remember better, enhancing your learning capabilities and problem-solving skills.
The value of sleep to your health is that your immune system relies on quality sleep to stay healthy. The process of rest, aids in healing heart and blood vessels, maintaining a healthy balance of hormones, and controls blood glucose (sugar) levels.
The value of sleep in the workplace and in school is that studies have shown people who do not get enough sleep are less productive, have slower reaction times, and generally make more mistakes. In fact, the studies says, even losing just 1-2 hours per night effects your ability to function as if you had not slept at all for a day or two.
Back in December 2008 Bill Clinton was on the CNN show “The Situation Room” and said, “In my long political career, most of the mistakes I made, I made when I was too tired. You make better decisions when you are not too tired. So that would be my only advice.”
What is the Right Amount of Sleep?
The US Department of Health & Human Services suggests that adults over the age of 18 should be sleeping 7-8 hours a day. They also discuss the concept of “slept debt” where getting less than the recommended amount will add up over time. For example, if you lose 1 hour of sleep each night over a 5 day work week, then on the weekend you many need to sleep extra to reduce that 5 hour total sleep debt.
Big companies know the value of sleep. Aetna offered employees money if they get more rest at night. Employees enter a program where Aetna tracks their sleep and if they get 7 hours or more of sleep for twenty days, they get $300.
Ways to get enough sleep
With life being so busy, most people tend to try and get some hours back by reducing their sleep. This can be counter-productive as getting enough sleep should make for a happier, healthier, and more productive day.
- Keep the same rest schedule for weeknights and weekends
- Avoid large meals within a couple of hours before bedtime
- Keep your bedroom dark and quiet
- An hour before bed try and relax to help your body get in a state of slumber