4 questions about sleep answered by a sleep expert

Answers to 4 Questions About Sleep That Keep us up at Night

Go to work, take care of the kids, pick up the dry cleaning, check email, catch up with friends… the list of activities we squeeze into the day can seem endless. How do we make time for everything the world demands of us? All too often, we sacrifice sleep.

You don’t have to look far these days to see evidence of this sacrifice. There seems to be a coffee shop on every street corner. World-wide energy drink sales reached $50 billion last year. We live in a world that is obsessed with staying awake and a full night’s rest has become a luxury rather than a health requirement. With all the emphasis on doing more and sleeping less, we often forget how much sleep we really need. The average adult needs anywhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep to feel fully rested, but there is no perfect amount of sleep – everyone is different.

So, what determines how much sleep you need? Several factors, including how active you are during the day, can impact how much recovery your body needs at night; but for the most part your sleep requirement is genetically determined, so you can thank your parents.

How do you know whether or not you’re sleeping enough? Your mornings may hold the answer. If you don’t have any sleep disorders that disrupt your quality of sleep (e.g. sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, etc.), then you can often tell if you’ve gotten enough rest by how you feel in the morning. If you’re well rested, waking up shouldn’t be a difficult process. If you feel like you’re dragging yourself out of bed and find yourself craving that first cup of coffee, you are not sleeping enough. Sometimes when you don’t get enough sleep you may find yourself dozing off during the day – a clear sign you’re not getting enough shut-eye. Many like to blame the occasional doze on boredom, but if you’ve slept enough, you shouldn’t fall asleep, even if you’re bored!

Can’t you just get accustomed to sleeping less? Perhaps you’ve become a lean, mean, sleep-avoiding machine, with only 6 hours of sleep each night and some coffee. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as getting used to less sleep. When you are chronically sleep-deprived, the feeling of sleepiness becomes the new normal, so people who are used to sleep deprivation often report that they feel fine. However, when sleep-deprived adults perform tasks that test certain brain capabilities, their performance continues to decline the longer they are sleep-deprived. So although you may feel like you’ve gotten accustomed to sleeping less, your brain is not necessarily performing at its best.

What happens to you when you don’t sleep enough? Fatigue and irritability are common, along with a decrease in essential brain functions like attention. Less attention means you are less efficient or productive during the day, which can set off a vicious sleep-deprived cycle: Less efficiency leads to working late, which leads you to get less sleep, which causes poor attention the next day at work, which leads to working late again – and so the cycle continues. Sleep deprivation can also be dangerous. Almost 5% of adults report they have fallen asleep while driving within the past month!

In order to solve our cultural sleep deprivation problem, we need to make sleep a priority. Instead of determining how much you’ll sleep based on your day’s schedule, determine your day’s schedule based on how much sleep you need. Consider that there are not actually 24 hours in a day – there are 16 hours in the day and 8 hours in the night! Commit to getting in bed early enough each night to get a full night’s sleep. You might just find yourself feeling more energetic and productive, which will put you in a better mood! The next time you see an advertisement for a new “super-duper, maximum jolt, mind-blowing energy extravaganza drink,” remember that the best energy boost is a good night’s sleep.

About The Author

Dr. Sujay Kansagra

Sujay Kansagra, MD is the director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and author of the book “My Child Won’t Sleep.” Dr. Kansagra offers Daily Doze readers tips and insight about the importance of sleep, especially for kids who need plenty of rest to grow and develop. Dr. Kansagra graduated from Duke University School of Medicine, where he also completed training as a pediatric neurologist. He did his fellowship in sleep medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, before joining the faculty at Duke as an assistant professor. He specializes in treating a variety of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and parasomnias. He shares advice on sleep, medicine, and education through his Twitter accounts @PedsSleepDoc and @Medschooladvice. When he’s not busy at work or on social media, Dr. Kansagra enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons. And yes, they are both great sleepers.

Best Night’s Sleep: Not just a sleep expert, but also an expert sleeper, Dr. Kansagra can sleep almost anywhere, thanks to years of sleep deprivation during medical school and residency call nights. But his best sleep is at home with his family, on a mattress he purchased at Mattress Firm long before he joined our team.

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