Many of us have sacrificed sleep for work, family demands or to binge-watch “one more episode” of that new addictive show. Unfortunately, when that happens, we tend to feel some negative effects the next day. If you find yourself short-tempered or cranky when you don’t get enough sleep, you are not alone.
“Sleep is a fundamental need for human beings, just like eating and drinking,” explains Dr. Victoria Sharma, medical director of the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Sleep Disorders Center. “Sleep is required for many processes including normal mental function.”
Everyone needs a different amount of sleep, with most people needing seven to eight hours optimally. However, the normal range spans from six to 10 hours. When someone is sleep-deprived, they may experience decreased concentration, slower reaction times, reduced ability to consolidate memories, anxiety, sadness and impatience. Understandably, these feelings can cause irritability in many people.
Not getting enough sleep also has short- and long-term physical effects. Common short-term effects include headaches, upset stomach, increased or decreased appetite, and hand tremors. In some cases, severe sleep deprivation can even be associated with hallucinations. In the long term, adults who average less than seven hours of sleep a day are more likely to report 10 chronic health conditions — including heart attacks, stroke and diabetes, according to the CDC.
While some things like family commitments are out of your control, there are ways you can improve your sleep hygiene and save yourself from feeling the effects of sleep deprivation. Dr. Sharma offers the following tips:
Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime.
Caffeine promotes alertness by inhibiting chemicals in the brain that promote sleep. It is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream and reaches peak levels within 30 to 70 minutes. The effects of caffeine can then last three to seven hours, but it may take up to 24 hours to fully eliminate caffeine from the body.
Avoid alcohol four hours before bedtime.
Alcohol may aid with sleep onset due to its sedative properties, allowing you to fall asleep more quickly. However, people who drink before bed often experience disruptions later in their sleep cycle as liver enzymes metabolize alcohol. This can also lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and other issues the following day.
Use your bed for sleep and sex only.
Avoid watching TV in bed. That way, you aren’t subconsciously associating your bed with other activities that get in the way of sleep. If you find yourself still lying awake after 20 minutes or so, get up and do something relaxing in dim light until you are sleepy.
Avoid screens two hours before bedtime.
Using electronic devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. This is largely due to the short-wavelength, artificial blue light that’s emitted by these devices. If you have to be on your device before bed, wear blue-light-blocking glasses to reduce the effects.