We all crave catching zzz’s, and for those of us toiling away in our twenties, sleep is more important than ever. Working 9 to 5 means you can’t just sleep the day away or pull regular all-nighters anymore. So what happens when you aren't getting enough sleep, and what should you do about it? Read on to find out!
1. What your body looks like when you don't get enough sleep
How do you know if you’re getting enough sleep? “On a weekend, if you can sleep [over] 2 hours [more] than you normally do, then you know on the weekdays you aren’t getting enough,” says Dr. Phyllis Zee, Director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Dubbed ‘social jet lag’ by experts like her, this practice of oversleeping to compensate for your sleepless workweek is the strongest indicator you’re not getting enough. “It is not normal to be sleepy. We think it is because we all do it,” she says.
Another way to know: it takes gargantuan amounts of coffee for you to function. You’re certainly not getting enough “if you have to drink a large amount of caffeine during the day to stay awake,” says Dr. Josna Adusumilli, Neurologist and Sleep Medicine Physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Rule of thumb for young adults? Seven to eight hours per night. Less than six hours of sleep, and your brain won’t function at its peak. A few days of this may grant you some embarrassing moments, but long-term sleep deprivation can lead to serious health issues like diabetes and heart disease. In the long run, you’re putting yourself at risk for chronic cardiovascular diseases, significant weight gain and poor cognitive performance. Not good.
2. Ready, set… sleep
As busy post-collegiettes, we’re constantly on. If you’re sending emails or texts late into the night or anticipating a rush of work early in the morning, the stress might be keeping you awake at all hours. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list to make sure you get the best night’s sleep possible.
Make your bedroom a haven by creating a quiet, calm environment to help you wind down.
- Keep your bedroom temperature slightly cooler, around 65 degrees (bonus: it'll save you money in the winter!).
- Shut your blinds or other places where stray light may filter into the room.
- Have a snoring partner or loud neighbors? It’s worth splurging on some noise-canceling headphones like these Bluetooth over-ear ones ($249.50, Bose). Try a cheaper option with this comfy headband ($29.95, SleepPhones).
Keep a consistent exercise and sleep routine.
Train your body when it should be sleeping and when it should be awake. “Try to wake up at the same time each morning; if you do this, then your bedtime will naturally start to synchronize so that you can fall asleep easier at night,” says Dr. Adusumilli. Exercising regularly keeps you in the groove—so make sure you’re exercising at the same time each day if you can, and no closer to bedtime than 3 hours. That falls under “stressful” activities before bed, which experts agree is a no-no.
Take advantage of your circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm is a fancy term for describing your body’s clock. It regulates your sleep cycle, which is heavily influenced by light exposure. “Exposure to bright natural lights during the morning, before noon, and dimming your lights before you go to bed is one of the most important things you can do,” says Dr. Zee. It’s the most natural way to let your body know it’s time for bed.
Dr. Adusumilli says to “try to avoid watching television or working on the computer before bedtime, since these devices emit blue light, which can make the brain more awake.” That blue light confuses your brain into thinking it’s not time to sleep by messing with your circadian rhythm. Most experts recommend shutting off all technology (yes, even Netflix) for at least 30 minutes before you hit the pillow. Keeping your bedroom a technology-free zone can also keep away the temptation to check Instagram. Your sleep thanks you.
Sleep apps can help you snooze.
Even though technology is partly to blame for our lack of sleep, mobile apps like Sleep Time, Sleep Cycle and Sleep Bot can help you catch better quality shut-eye. Though they’re not 100 percent accurate, they work based on movement, so you can tell whether you’re getting a solid block of sleep or something more fragmented. Knowing exactly what your sleep cycle looks like will help you identify when you’re waking up and why, which can help you connect how you’re feeling (like a zombie) to the amount of sleep you're getting (4 hours).
3. Still burning the midnight oil?
So you’ve been following our advice, but you’re still not catching a wink? It may be time to talk to your health care provider, particularly if you’re allowing yourself seven to eight hours in bed. Says Dr. Zee, “If you’re having chronic problems falling or staying asleep three or more times per week, it’s having an impact on your ability to function throughout the day, and it’s lasting more than a month, it’s definitely time to let your health care provider know you’re having trouble with your sleep.”
Ultimately, your sleep is the difference between you being a functioning adult and a mindless zombie. Getting enough of it, and of the right quality, isn't just important for your health, but for your overall happiness as well. Who knows? All that extra sleep with these tips could turn you into a morning person!