Time Health published an article today on sleep. It sounds like science is moving beyond talking about the benefits of sleep and into the necessity of sleep. One notable statement made in the article is that chronic undersleeping can prematurely age the brain and possibly make us more prone to brain diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s) in the future.
Sleep has been my Number 1 on Dr. Schlegelmilch's Big 3 List for a while (sleep, exercise, nutrition). If you are looking to make the biggest overall positive impact, in a holistic sense, on your life, get the right amount of sleep. Poor sleep can contribute to the following:
decrease cognitive efficiency and accuracy
problems with memory
prematurely age the brain
(possibly) put us at risk for other cognitive diseases (e.g., Alzheimer's)
increase the risk of diseases like Type 2 Diabetes
increase chances of depression and anxiety
cause aggitation, short temper, low cognitive and emotional stamina
Sleep is not only one of the main things I use to guage presence of and severity of many mental health problems, it is also a part of my treatment regimen in most cases where clients report stress, depression, anxiety, anger, relationship problems, vocational/academic problems, and more. I cannot stress the importance of adequate sleep.
What does science recommend? 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, 5-7 nights a week, for the rest of your life starting today. It is also important to note that more is not better in this case. Teens need up to 9 hours a night, but most adults do not seem to need more than 8 if they are consistently getting that much each night. In fact, for most adults, getting more than 8 hours of sleep at night puts you at greater risk for depression. I'm not making this up.
If you would like to start working on your "sleep hygiene", before you move into the realm of medications (do not use sleep medications without your physician's supervision), try some or all of the following for at least 2 weeks:
pick a bedtime (do not stray more than 30 minutes plus/minus)
pick a wake up time (that you follow even on weekends)
create a bedtime routine that you start 30-45 minutes prior to bedtime
meditation, praying, deep breathing
brushing teeth, bathing (these things can signal the body that it's time to sleep)
no TV, computer, or phone (these signal the body it's time to be alert)
exercise 30-45 minutes during the day (preferably the morning)
sleep with a facemask (dark as possible is good)
use a white noise maker (it takes about 5 minutes to stop noticing it)
get exposure to direct sunlight during the day
get a new bed (if yours is old, too small, or otherwise uncomfortable)
I use nearly all of the above strategies, and the more I stick to them, the better I sleep. If you are still having trouble after using several/all of these strategies for at least 2 weeks, contact your healthcare professional. Psychologists are also excellent at helping people improve their sleep hygiene, so give me or one of my colleagues a call and we can probably help. It should be noted that there are such things as "sleep disorders" that can be organic, chemical, or psycholgical in nature. If you feel you might qualify for a sleep disorder and are not already under the care of a professional, please contact your healthcare professional right away.