America has a serious problem when it comes to sleep.
According to the Centers for Disease control and prevention, about 30% of all Americans aren’t getting enough sleep.
And while it can be easy to just brush off bad sleep as another natural part of life, sleep loss has major consequences on pretty much every aspect of your life.
From your mental functions to your basic physical health, sleep deprivation is one of the absolute worst things you can do to your body.
Bad sleep is more than just a nasty habit.
It’s flat-out dangerous.
Not Tired Doesn’t Mean Not Sleep Deprived
Now, before we get into all the details, it’s important to clear up one common misconception.
Feeling tired is not the same thing as being sleep deprived.
While it’s true that tiredness is the most immediately identifiable symptom of not getting enough sleep, it’s entirely possible to power through tiredness if you have the right attitude and are in the right environment.
If you never give yourself a chance to slow down, you can stave off feelings of fatigue for far longer than you might expect – and from this, you might conclude that you don’t really need as much sleep as you think.
The thing is, though, that’s simply not true.
As we’ll see in a moment, there’s no getting around the consequences of bad sleep, whether you feel tired or not.
One good litmus test to see your own levels of sleep deprivation is to simply give yourself the chance to breath for a few moments.
Allow yourself a minute or two to just relax and concentrate on your breathing.
If you start feeling your eyelids grow a little heavy, that means you haven’t been getting enough sleep.
You’re an Emotional Wreck
Beyond basic tiredness, one of the most challenging symptoms of sleep deprivation is its impact on your mental health.
There’s a very strong correlation between lack of sleep and mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
And while separating the cause from the effect can often be difficult in things like this – both anxiety and depression are common contributing factors in insomnia – sleep has had a number of well-documented effects on more easily-measurable things, like mood.
People tend to score and/or rate themselves higher on just about every negative emotion when they haven’t been getting enough sleep.
It’s easier to feel sad and harder to feel happy without a good night’s sleep.
As we become more irritable and easily provoked, those elusive good moods tend to come by less and less frequently.
A lot of ink has been spilled over trying to find the secret to happiness.
While a decent night’s sleep certainly isn’t the complete answer to improving your overall wellbeing, it’s often a pretty good start.
Your Body Takes a Beating
In addition to making you feel terrible mentally, sleep deprivation can do a number on your physical health, as well.
First of all, sleep loss destroys your immune system.
Your body isn’t getting the time it needs to recharge its defenses – so when illness strikes, you’re basically left defenseless.
Lack of sleep makes it harder for your body to recover from sickness, as well.
More than that, though, sleep loss can also have far more long-lasting impacts on your health.
It’s been linked to increases in blood pressure and weight gain, as well as heightened risk for diabetes.
This is because your brain has trouble juggling all the chemicals it’s supposed to be keeping track of, which results in unhealthy swings in hormones.
If you’re looking to improve your physical wellbeing in any way, a good night’s sleep is the way to get there.
Your Sex Drive Declines
Reduced libido is another common side effect of sleep loss.
There are a several reasons for this.
First of all, lack of sleep decreases overall energy levels, and simply “feeling too tired” is one of the leading reasons for couples not sleeping together.
Additionally, sleep loss tends to come hand-in-hand with increased stress levels, so your body begins to produce huge amounts of hormones like cortisol.
All this production comes at the expense of hormones like testosterone and estrogen, which, in turn, decreases sex drive.
Finally, bad sleep’s connection to mental health disorders can also indirectly impact sex drive, since things like anxiety and depression are also known to cut down on libido.
On the flip side, meanwhile, increased sexual activity tends to improve sleep quality, as well as feelings of intimacy and connection with your partner.
You Can’t Think Properly
Meanwhile, as your mental and physical health decline and your sex drive goes down the tubes, you’ll also find yourself having more and more difficulty with basic cognitive processes as your sleep loss continues.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to problems with focus and concentration, which can impede job performance and make everyday functioning next to impossible.
More than that, though, it can also be straight-up dangerous, since this makes safe driving far, far more difficult.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, just being awake for 18 hours straight is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol content of .05, which is the equivalent to being tipsy.
Driving after being awake for 24 hours straight, meanwhile, is the equivalent to a BOC of .10 (while .08 is the lower limit to be considered drunk).
Although relatively few people are typically pulling all-nighters on a regular basis, keep in mind that sleep debt is in many ways cumulative.
For most people, if you’ve been getting six hours of sleep each night for two weeks straight, you’ve missed out on a full 28 hours of sleep!
Sleep deprivation also cuts down on your ability to both learn and remember.
You’re able to keep fewer things in your short-term memory, and of those things, far fewer are likely to every reach long-term storage.
So if you’ve been losing sleep in order to put in more time at your job, there’s a very good change of your efforts backfiring.
Your Creativity Dries Up
Finally, if that all wasn’t bad enough, poor sleep also has major consequences on your creativity.
You’re less likely to come up with novel solutions to problems in your work and daily life – again, impacting your ability to keep on working at all.
There’s a good reason why people tend to say they’ll “sleep on it” before making any major decisions.
Your sleep is when you mull over the challenges you’ve been dealing with throughout the day.
If you’ve been struggling to come up with an answer to a particularly thorny question, at a certain point you’ll just be wasting your time working if it means you’re cutting back on sleep.
Even if you don’t wake up in the morning with a dramatic ah-ha! moment, you’ll certainly find it easier to come up with answers later in the day.
How to Get More Sleep
So, you’re convinced that you need to be getting better sleep.
The question now becomes, how do you actually do that?
While it’s easy enough on paper to talk about the importance of sleep, the bad habits that keep us up at night are often pretty difficult to shake.
Here are some of the most effective tips to try.
Make Sleep a Priority
First and foremost, sleep needs to become a major priority.
Pretty much anything in this life becomes easier with a good night’s sleep, so there aren’t too many excuses you can use to justify sleep deprivation.
Before we go on to our more specific tips, you’ll need to psychologically prepare yourself to make real, meaningful changes to your life for the sake of your sleep.
You’re going to need to put in the time it takes to develop a healthy sleep schedule.
You need to be blocking out eight hours, every single night.
While it might seem at first like these are sacrifices, keep in mind that, in the long run, all of this is going to come back to your advantage!
Keep a Consistent Schedule
Consistency is another major factor.
The less variation you can have in your bedtimes and wakeup times throughout the week, the easier sleep will become.
This doesn’t work if you’re staying up late on the weekends to go have fun, or sleeping in for longer than you normally do in order to “catch up” on lost sleep.
To get the highest-quality sleep, your brain needs to be able to anticipate when it needs to be powering down and when it needs to be “on.”
Other Helpful Tips
Other helpful practices include:
- Avoiding electronics for at least half an hour before bed. The blue wavelength light of most modern LED screens decreases production of the sleep hormone
- Creating a “buffer zone” between bedtime and the rest of the day. Don’t do any kind of stressful work during this period.
- Developing soothing nighttime rituals. Things like reading or taking a hot shower just before bed can help you mind recognize when it’s supposed to be getting to sleep.
- Saving the bed for sleep and sex. This helps your brain associate a specific place (the bedroom) with a specific activity (sleep).
Hope that’s helpful!