I always talk about how we’re too obsessed with the numbers on the scale and the numbers on the BMI chart, but one of the numbers we obsess about that I have yet to mention is the amount of hours we sleep each night.
I have always been a night owl—something you might have guessed by the time of day I write my blog posts—and I like to stay up until all hours and get out of bed later than most people. I try my best to get nine hours of sleep each night when it’s possible, and in an ideal world, I would stay up until midnight and sleep until nine. But there are some nights when I find myself still awake past one, forcing me to sleep even later if I want to feel rested.
But when I tell people that I like to get nine hours of beauty rest and sleep until nine or—gasp!—ten in the morning, they act horrified and say things like, “I wish I could do that!” which seems to be a passive aggressive way of saying that they think I am a bit lazy at best and a slothful loser at worst.
This raises the question, why do people think sleep is bad? Why are those of us who like to sleep late so maligned???
All of the research clearly indicates that not getting enough sleep is DIRECTLY related to weight gain, health problems, and longevity. In fact, a 2006 study by the American Thoracic Society “showed that women who slept 5 hours per night were 32% more likely to experience major weight gain (an increase of 33 pounds or more) and 15% more likely to become obese over the course of the 16-year study, compared to those who slept 7 hours a night.”1
Why does this happen? For two simple reasons:
1) When we’re tired, we look for ways to help get through the day and one of the coping mechanisms we rely on is food and drink—often high-calorie junk food and sugar-filled, caffeine-laden beverages. I like nothing better than a cold soda and a bag of chips after a late night, and I’m sure all of you could easily name the poison you use to get through a nasty sleep hangover.
2) But I bet you didn’t know that not getting enough sleep also affects “the body's ability to metabolize carbohydrates and causes high blood levels of glucose, which leads to a greater body-fat storage.”1 Once you understand that, getting nine hours of sleep doesn’t seem so crazy after all, does it?
Nevertheless, most people seem to believe the old maxin that “the early bird gets the worm” and far too often translate that to mean people who sleep more than six hours a night are also not getting the worm or are lazy, which is a dangerous message to send given how directly sleep affects our health.
It’s also not true that older folks need less sleep, a myth that I often hear repeated by my dad, who likes to get up as early or five or six in the morning and then wonders why he’s tired and cranky before noon. The truth is that “the need for sleep doesn't decline with age” though it may be harder to stay asleep longer without waking up.2
If you do have trouble sleeping, you might try some of these techniques the American Psychological Association recommends for better and longer sleep:
• Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule
• Don’t consume caffeine four to six hours before bed and minimize daytime use
• Don’t smoke, especially near bedtime or if you wake up at night
• Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before sleep
• Get regular exercise
• Minimize noise, light, and excessive hot and cold temperatures where you sleep
• Develop a regular bed time and go to bed at the same time each night
• Try and wake up without an alarm clock
• Attempt to go to bed earlier every night for certain period; this will ensure that you’re getting enough sleep2
I've also heard that it's not a good idea to read for long periods of time in the bedroom. Reading to fall asleep is okay, but if you spend significant time doing more than the two things that beds were designed for, you are basically training your body to stay awake while in bed.
So the next time someone scoffs over your desire to sleep late or catch an afternoon nap, take a step back and ask yourself if the person wagging a finger at you looks like he or she could use a better night’s sleep too.