Sometimes, the pace of modern life barely gives you time to stop and rest. It can make getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis seem like a dream.
But sleep is as important for good health as diet and exercise. Good sleep improves your brain performance, mood, and health.
Not getting enough quality sleep regularly raises the risk of many diseases and disorders. These range from heart disease and stroke to obesity and dementia.
There’s more to good sleep than just the hours spent in bed, says Dr. Marishka Brown, a sleep expert at NIH. “Healthy sleep encompasses three major things,” she explains. “One is how much sleep you get. Another is sleep quality—that you get uninterrupted and refreshing sleep. The last is a consistent sleep schedule.”
People who work the night shift or irregular schedules may find getting quality sleep extra challenging. And times of great stress—like the current pandemic—can disrupt our normal sleep routines. But there are many things you can do to improve your sleep.
Sleep Myths and Truths
How much sleep you need changes with age. Experts recommend school-age children get at least nine hours a night and teens get between eight and 10. Most adults need at least seven hours or more of sleep each night.
There are many misunderstandings about sleep. One is that adults need less sleep as they get older. This isn’t true. Older adults still need the same amount. But sleep quality can get worse as you age. Older adults are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep.
Another sleep myth is that you can “catch up” on your days off. Researchers are finding that this largely isn’t the case.
“If you have one bad night’s sleep and take a nap, or sleep longer the next night, that can benefit you,” says Wright. “But if you have a week’s worth of getting too little sleep, the weekend isn’t sufficient for you to catch up. That’s not a healthy behavior.”
In a recent study, Wright and his team looked at people with consistently deficient sleep. They compared them to sleep-deprived people who got to sleep in on the weekend.
Both groups of people gained weight with lack of sleep. Their bodies’ ability to control blood sugar levels also got worse. The weekend catch-up sleep didn’t help.
On the flip side, more sleep isn’t always better, says Brown. For adults, “if you’re sleeping more than nine hours a night and you still don’t feel refreshed, there may be some underlying medical issue,” she explains.