While most of us are aware of the fact that we need a balanced diet and a proper workout regime to stay healthy, sadly, not a lot of importance is placed on getting a good night’s sleep. For the uninitiated, sleeping well is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet, if not more. Since we spend around one-third of our life sleeping, it is time that we understand the importance of sleep and its relation with our overall health.

What happens when you don’t catch enough zzz’s?

A lot of research has shown a direct correlation between poor sleep and serious health problems. Not only is sleeplessness a public health hazard (causing accidents), it also slows down your problem-solving skills and lowers your libido. A lot of studies have pointed towards the fact that adults who sleep for less than five to six hours are more prone to being overweight.

Functioning on lower-levels of sleep for an extended amount of time drastically impairs your cognitive process including problem-solving skills, alertness, concentration and reasoning. From fuzzy-headedness to irritability, not catching enough sleep can wreak havoc in your life in more ways than one.

What is sleep debt and how can you repay it?

If you haven’t been able to sleep properly for a while, you may start accumulating sleep debt–a habit where you chronically lose sleep, without making up for it. A lot of people tend to wake up late on the weekends, trying to make up for the lost eye-shut during the hectic weekdays. Sadly, this is not how it works.

If you are regularly sleeping less than the required amount of time, it will take a lot more than just sleeping in on weekends to make up. According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychophysiology, National Institute of Mental Health, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, Japan in the year 2016, for every one hour of sleep deprivation, you need a minimum of 4 days to recover.

How much sleep do you really need?

There are a lot of theories floating around the ideal number of sleep hours and it varies from anything between 6 to 8 hours for an average adult. However, not everyone needs the same hours of sleep every night and it varies greatly by individual.

The best person to tell you about your sleep requirement is you yourself. To figure out how much sleep you need, check how you are feeling after waking up. If you are sleepy, exhausted and have a tendency to fall asleep on your commute–you are clearly sleep deprived. If you have a habit of waking up early–irrespective of what time you have hit the sheets–try sleeping early and catch at least 8 hours of sleep.

There is another interesting way to find out how much sleep you actually need. Do not set an alarm for the next day and go to sleep on a fixed time every day. Note the time you wake up naturally. Do keep in mind that you may sleep a little extra for the first few days to battle sleep debt. Repeat this exercise for a week and notice your sleeping pattern. Once you know how much sleep you actually need, fix your night-time routine to reflect the same.

Age-wise sleep recommendation

Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day

Infants (4-11 months):12-15 hours each day

Toddlers (1-2 years):11-14 hours each day

Preschoolers (3-5):10-13 hours each day

School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours each day

Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours each day

Adults (26-64):7-9 hours each day

Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours each day

How to know if you are sleep deprived?

The simplest way of understanding your sleep health is to pay attention to how you feel in the morning. Do you feel refreshed and ready for the day? Or do you feel like stabbing the first person who wishes you good morning?

While a lot of people use sleep trackers in-built in the smartphones to keep a tab on their sleeping hours, it is strongly advised to take things old-school. Jot down the time you go to bed and when you wake up.

If you experience nightmares which result in disturbed and poor sleep, write it down when you wake up. This will help you keep a tab on the quality of sleep you are getting. This sleep diary will come handy in case you are battling any sleep disorders as well.

How to get enough sleep?

If you have been battling sleepless nights and want to get back your schedule right on track, there are certain factors you must keep in mind:

1. Be consistent with your bedtime

The first and foremost thing you need to do is to set a fixed time to hit the sheets. Irrespective of when you are waking up in the morning, be consistent with your sleeping time.

2. Say bye-bye to electronics

It is important to understand that blue light wreaks havoc on your sleep cycle. It impacts your circadian rhythm and tricks your brain into thinking it is still day time. Hence, steer clear of electronics at least 2 hours before going to bed.

3. Ditch caffeine

This one is a no-brainer. Unless and until you want to dance till 3 in the morning, keep that cup of joe away after 4 in the evening. Did you know that caffeine might stay in your system for up to 6 hours?

4. Time your nap

Do not take more than 20 minutes of nap during the afternoon, so that your sleep cycle remains right on track.

5. Wake up 15 minutes earlier than usual

If you are trying to become a morning person, try waking up at least 20 minutes earlier than your usual time. For example, if you wake up at 9 and your aim is to be up and running by 7, try waking up at 8:40 am the first day. Keep getting up 20 minutes earlier than the previous day, till you reach your goal time.

6. Try meditation

If you have a lot on your mind, it is obvious that it may take a while before you calm down and sleep. To avoid twisting and turning at night, listen to some relaxing music and take slow deep breaths to clear the clutter in your head. You can also take a shower before bedtime to cool down your body.

The bottom line

Catching a good night’s sleep plays an extremely crucial role in maintaining good physical and mental health. If it seems like you are battling any underlying sleeping disorders–which are hampering your sleep cycle– it is strictly advised to consult a medical professional.