Feelings of crankiness after having a bad night’s sleep are not unheard of. Sleep is an important part in improving our physical and psychological well-being, but not everyone can get quality sleep all the time. But why exactly is sleep so important to us humans?
For one, sleep reinforces learning and memory. It has been shown in studies that people who have had proper sleep after reviewing for an exam did better than those who were sleep deprived. Proper sleep also benefits people when it comes to decision making, problem solving, and reasoning. Another benefit of sleep is for physical restoration. It has been found that sleep affects the function of the immune system, and that people who have proper sleep have wounds that heal better and are better able to get through sickness.
Sleep also helps us maintain proper weight and avoid weight gain, since chronic sleep deprivation causes the body to process and store carbohydrates abnormally as well as causes changes in hormone levels, affecting appetite. Lack of sleep during the night also causes sleep debt, which makes us more prone to falling asleep during the day. This can hinder our normal daily routine such as our work, driving, or taking care of the kids. Lack of sleep also causes mood changes, such as irritability, confusion, and inability to concentrate. Chronic sleep deprivation may also cause changes in blood pressure, heartbeat patterns and increase in stress levels.
So just how much sleep is enough? It depends on a person’s age. Babies will usually spend most of their days sleeping, up to 18 hours of sleep daily. Children 3-5 years old will usually need about 11-13 hours of sleep, while kids 5-12 year old will usually need about 9-11 hours. Adolescents aged 13-18 will usually need about 9-10 hours, while most adults including the elderly will need about 7-9 hours of sleep. Pregnant women will need more sleep, more than 8 hours. Some people naturally have trouble sleeping, but there are tips that can be followed in order to counter this.
Stick to a fixed sleeping pattern. Designate a time to sleep at night and a time to wake up in the morning. Follow this schedule even on weekends, so that your body can recognize a sleep-wake pattern which will make it easier for you to sleep at night.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine as well as sweets in the evening. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can keep you awake during the night. Drink your last cup of coffee at least 8 hours before bedtime. Sweets can cause you to be hyperactive and should be avoided during dinnertime.
Do not eat too much or drink too much before sleeping. Try to eat at least 2 hours before bedtime, and do not stuff yourself. Drinking too much fluids can disrupt sleep by having urges to urinate in the middle of the night.
Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool to help you relax and fall into sleep easily. If light disturbs you easily, sleep with an eye mask and if sounds disturb you easily, an ear plug might help.
Adopt a relaxing sleep routine. If you are not the type who can sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, try a relaxing routine prior to sleeping. This could be a soak in the tub, a hot shower, or reading a few chapters from a book. You could also try putting on a soothing and relaxing music. For some people, certain scents like lavender may help. Try putting a drop of these essential oils on your pillow to aid you in sleeping.
Avoid taking sleeping pills unless absolutely necessary. Sleeping pills can cause a dependency (whether physiologically or psychologically) and may disrupt your sleep pattern in the long run. Consult with your doctor before taking any sleeping pills, and never take it with alcohol.