Sleep – More Important
Research says the average American misses 200-300 hours of needed
sleep each year. This is known as a sleep debt.
Studies suggest that healthy adults have a basal sleep need of seven to
eight hours every night. Where things get complicated is the interaction
between the basal need and sleep debt. For instance, you might meet
your basal sleep need on any single night or a few nights in a row, but
still have an unresolved sleep debt that may make you feel more sleepy
and less alert at times, particularly in conjunction with circadian dips,
those times in the 24-hour cycle when we are biologically programmed
to be more sleepy and less alert, such as overnight hours and midafternoon.
What do obesity, chronic high stress, heart disease, diabetes,
hypertension, and depression have in common? If you guessed sleep
deprivation, my hat’s off to you.
While there is no “magic number” of hours that we should sleep, it is
now firmly established that you cannot lose weight if you do not sleep a
solid 7-8 hours a night.
Cortisol is not the only factor that inhibits weight loss but it is a big one.
Some physicians are willing to flatly state that you cannot lose weight if
you do not get to bed early and get a solid 7 or 8 hours.
What getting a good night’s sleep can do for you:
- A good night’s sleep has a positive effect on your blood pressure,
meaning that for most of us it goes down at night. If your hours of sleep
are interrupted or too short, your blood pressure may never fall low
- Insulin resistance is reduced by good sleep. Dr. Michael Breus, a
psychologist and sleep specialist, emphasizes the fact that even short-term sleep loss (being awake for approximately 36 hours) can cause
blood glucose levels to be higher than normal.
- A routine schedule for sleeping will help your body keep its internal
biological clock running smoothly. You will be more alert, with good
reaction time and physical ability, in other words, less accident-prone.
How psychologists can help
Many psychologists are focusing on sleep habits in the patients they are
treating. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, looking at
adults with insomnia, found that more than 85% of the study sample
who completed 3 or more sleep-focused treatment sessions were able to
nod off faster and stay asleep longer. A 6-month follow-up revealed that
those patients who had 3 or more sessions spent significantly less
money on health care and had fewer doctor visits – compared to the 6
months before their therapy sessions focused on sleep habits. The
weekly therapy sessions included relaxation exercises and education on
topics such as activities to avoid doing 2 hours before bedtime (like
exercise, heavy meals, and smoking).