Not getting enough sleep can harm your mood, memory, ability to learn and concentrate, and job performance. And shorten your life. It can even kill you and others if you fall asleep while driving or operating machinery.
It is important to be able to get a good night’s sleep without the use of an over the counter sleep aid or prescription sleep aids. “I consider sleep deprivation a national emergency,” says William Dement, MD, founder of the world’s first sleep disorders clinic (located at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California). Dement has studied sleep for over 30 years.
The average amount of sleep per night has dropped 20% in the 20th century. A “have-it-all” culture pressures people to cut down on sleep to make room for work, leisure, and family and then encourages them to brag about it, he notes. But what he and his colleagues call “sleep debt” accumulates and must be paid back. For adults, sleep debt is how much sleep you don’t get based on a need for 1 hour of sleep for every 2 hours awake, on average.
10 tips for good natural sleep:
- Wake up at the same time each day.
- Get as much bright light as possible around wake-up time, preferably outdoors.
- Take a 45-minute walk outdoors daily.
- Limit caffeine intake from coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate. If you have trouble sleeping, try to give up caffeine.
- Limit smoking, especially if you have trouble sleeping.
- Limit alcohol intake to two small drinks daily. If you have trouble sleeping, give it up.
- Take naps if you are sleepy, unless you have trouble sleeping at night.
- Don’t use your bedroom as an office.
- Start to wind down about 9 hours before wake-up time. Take 15 minutes to write down the day’s worries and successes. Then, relax for 45 minutes with light (nonwork or nonstimulating) reading, classical music, a warm bath, meditation, or a glass of milk with honey.
- If you have trouble falling asleep, go into another room to relax until you are sleepy, and only then return.
How Much Sleep Do You Need
People vary in their need for sleep. Some adults are just fine with 7 or 6 hours per night; others require 9 or more. Dement says if you don’t know how much you need, try sleeping a few nights for the amount of time you think you need. Then track how tired you feel during the day, particularly after lunch, during lulls at work, meetings or movies, or while driving. Add 15-30 minutes per night until you feel alert and rested each day. If you are a “night owl,” sleep a bit later; if you are a “lark,” go to bed earlier.