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How does lack of sleep affect your health?

Just like food and water, sleep is essential to keep your body and mind in top form. But for many people,  getting enough sleep is easier said than done.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly half of all Americans say they feel sleepy during the day more days than not. And more than 35 percent report sleeping, on average, less than seven hours per night.

How much sleep do I need?

Everyone feels better after a good night’s rest.  But there’s no magic formula to determine the ideal number of hours you should sleep each night. The National Sleep Foundation offers a guide for what to aim for based on age. 

  • Older adults, 65+ years: 7–8 hours
  • Adults, 26 to 64 years: 7–9 hours
  • Young adults, 18 to 25 years: 7–9 hours
  • Teenagers, 14 to 17 years: 8–10 hours
  • School-age children, 6 to 13 years: 9–11 hours
  • Preschool children, 3 to 5 years: 10–13 hours
  • Toddlers, 1 to 2 years: 11–14 hours
  • Infants, 4 to 11 months: 12–15 hours
  • Newborns, 0 to 3 months: 14–17 hours

So, in general, a solid seven hours of sleep for adults is a good target to aim for.

What happens if I don’t get enough sleep?

That “sleep is essential” thing we mentioned? We really meant it. When you skip meals or forget to hydrate, the results aren’t great. Same goes for lack of sleep.

When you don’t get enough sleep, it takes a toll on your body and brain. Here are some of the consequences:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer
  • Concentration problems
  • Diminished sex drive
  • Weight gain
  • Depleted skin moisture that can cause wrinkles, uneven pigmentation and acne

What’s the difference between sleep deprivation and insomnia?

Simply put, sleep deprivation happens when you don’t get enough shut-eye. It is not a disease, but rather a result of staying up late cramming for finals, binge-watching Squid Game, tending to that small human in your care or other lifestyle choice. It can also be a sign of some other underlying illness or condition. 

Early symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Concentration problems
  • Reduced attention span
  • Worsened memory
  • Lack of energy
  • Less resistance to infection
  • Mood changes, including feelings of stress, anxiety or irritability

Overtime, the side effects of sleep deprivation can become more serious, including increased risk of:

  • Depression and mental illness
  • Stroke
  • Asthma attack
  • Severe mood swings
  • Hallucinations

Indigo Online Care mental health screening

Insomnia, on the other hand, refers to the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep—despite having the opportunity to sleep. Symptoms of insomnia may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night's sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
  • Irritability, depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks or remembering
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Ongoing worries about sleep

What can I do to sleep better?

First, it’s important to recognize the value of a good night’s rest. But between work, family and other daily demands, sleep often slips to the bottom of the to-do list. But consider this: When you need medication to alleviate or manage a health issue, you take it. Think of sleep as a prescription for good health.

 If you’re having trouble sleeping, these good sleep habits may help:

  • Shut down the devices. Blue light can disturb your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle. Set aside the electronics at least an hour before bed time.
  • Set a consistent sleep schedule. Strive to get up in the morning and go to bed each night at the same time. The urge to hit snooze on the weekends may be strong, but a fixed daily wake-up time makes it easier to sleep at night.
  • Go to the dark side. Use black-out curtains or a sleep mask to block out light.
  • Indulge in some relaxing bedtime rituals. Make it easier to slip into slumber. A warm bath, a good book, soothing herbal tea or meditation are great options.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before lights-out.
  • Exercise regularly. Being active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night. Along with improved sleep, regular exercise can prevent arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.

Couple eating pizza in bed

What’s the best way to go back to sleep if I wake up during the night?

What is it about unwelcomed 3 a.m. wake-ups? When your eyes pop open and your mind starts to race, it may seem impossible to get back to sleep. 

There are some underlying health problems that can disturb sleep, including chronic pain, sleep apnea and acid reflux. But if your sleep issues aren’t associated with something else, here are a few tips to help you get back to the business of sleep.

  • Keep your eyes off the clock. Resist the urge to check on the time. You’ll only kick your brain into “how long until the alarm goes off” mode, making it even more difficult to go back to sleep.
  • Just relax. To refocus your thoughts, try relaxing your body to fall to sleep. Work from your toes to your forehead. Tense each muscle group for five seconds, then relax.

Another helpful technique is 4-7-8 breathing. (Thank you, ancient yogis.) Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. 

  • Don’t push it. We’ve all been there. “If I just wait a few more minutes, surely I’ll fall asleep.” If you’re still awake after 15 or 20 minutes, it’s probably time to get up and leave your bedroom. While you’re up, turn on some soothing music, watch some mindless TV on your actual TV or do some light reading. (Now is not the time to scroll through Insta or get a jump on work emails.) Wait a minimum of 30 minutes and go back to bed when you start to feel sleepy. 

How do I know if I have a chronic sleep deprivation?

From work stress to allergy sniffles to that pass to Golden Tate in the 2012 Packers-Seahawks game, there are loads of life issues that can disturb your sleep. But sometimes, occasional sleeplessness can turn into a long-term problem. If you’re not sure your sleep issues are more than a blip on the radar, ask yourself:

  • Do you wake up three or more nights each week?
  • Does it take longer than 30 minutes for you to fall back to sleep?
  • Have you been waking in the middle of the night for at least 30 days?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, talk with your doctor or one of the friendly providers at Indigo Urgent Care. It may be time to see a sleep specialist about what’s keeping you up at night.

Lucky for you, our virtual assistant, Indy, never sleeps. Get connected. Indy will evaluate your symptoms and get you the care you need now—or via our convenient Online Care services, 24/7.

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