Between all the dieting and exercise, people who are trying to get healthy may be overlooking one crucial lifestyle element: sleep. Most people know that sleep is essential for concentration, memory, productivity and overall brain function. However, some might not know that insufficient sleep can raise the risk of serious conditions such as diabetes, obesity, depression, hypertension and even cancer. And it’s not just health-conscious people who should be concerned. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a full 30 percent of civilian employed adults in the U.S. get less than six hours of sleep each night. This means that almost one-third of Americans are getting less than the recommended amount of sleep. Typical sleep recommendations state that eight hours a night is best, but new research from the National Sleep Foundation has changed the guidelines a bit.
Recommended Hours Have Changed Slightly
The new sleep recommendations are a slight departure from older sleep guidelines. According to the official press release, the National Sleep Foundation worked with experts in the field of sleep, pediatrics, neurology, anatomy and physiology, gynecology and gerontology to come to a consensus about each age group’s sleep recommendations. According to one researcher from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, this is the first time that a professional organization has conducted a rigorous, systematic review of the available sleep literature to form healthy guidelines based on age. The new sleep recommendations are as follows:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours (previous guideline: 12-18 hours)
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (previous guideline: 14-15 hours)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (previous guideline: 12-14 hours)
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours (previous guideline: 11-13 hours)
- School-age children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours (previous guideline: 10-11 hours)
- Teens (14-17 years): 8-10 hours (previous guideline: 8.5-9.5 hours)
- Young adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64 years): 7-9 hours (no change from previous guideline)
- Older adults (65+ years): 7-8 hours (new age category)
The new sleep recommendations also contain a category labeled “may be appropriate,” which expands the guidelines to include the sleep habits of some healthy individuals who have atypical sleep patterns. For example, the “may be appropriate” category for adults states that 6 hours and 10 hours each night might indeed be healthy for some people. Nevertheless, getting less than six hours is “not recommended” for any adult.
Getting Better Sleep
Again, all your exercise and dieting efforts could be in vain if you’re not getting enough sleep. Try some of these tips to help you get the quality of sleep you need:
- Keep a regular schedule – Set a regular bedtime every night and stick with it. Then, wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends. Setting these times can help put your body into a rhythm that allows you to fall asleep easily and get high-quality rest.
- Be smart about naps – Experts are divided on whether or not napping is good for you. In general, a short nap during the day could be incredibly beneficial for making up some lost sleep and improving cognitive function. However, napping to the point where it’s hard to fall asleep at night is doing you more harm than good.
- Regulate light exposure – If possible, get some sunlight during the day by keeping curtains open and spending some time outside. At night, turn off your TV or computer well before going to bed.
- Watch your diet – It’s common sense to avoid caffeine before bed. However, many people might not know that alcohol and big meals should also be avoided. Alcohol can cause you to fall asleep faster, but it will reduce your quality of sleep throughout the night. Also, big meals and alcohol can necessitate waking up and using the bathroom several times.
- Work on relaxation techniques – Simple techniques like deep breathing, reading a book and meditating can allow you to slip into a restful sleep.
If you simply don’t have time to get more than six hours of sleep, it may come down to time management. Adjusting your schedule to get a couple more hours of sleep each night can make a huge difference in your health and quality of life.
New Sleep Recommendations: The Bottom Line
The new recommendations don’t really present anything too far outside of common sense. If you feel like you aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re probably right. Just don’t allow sleep deprivation to trump all your hard work – get that eight hours if at all possible.