By now most of us know that we should be getting eight hours of sleep each night, but in reality, a lot of us are barely reaching that goal.
"Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain," sleep scientist Matthew Walker, author of the book “Why We Sleep,” tells NPR. "Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it."
Walker is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley and he offers some tips and facts for those who just can’t seem to get the sleep they should be getting.
- You can’t make up for sleep – No matter how much you wish you could make up for the sleep you miss during the week by sleeping longer over the weekend, the body simply doesn’t work that way. He notes, “the brain has no capacity to get back that lost sleep that you've been lumbering it with during the week in terms of a debt.”
- Let teenagers sleep on weekends – Parents really shouldn’t force kids out of bed on the weekends. Walker says they are sleeping late because their biology is telling them they need it. Plus, it probably means they are trying to sleep off a debt from early school start times, which he says needs to be changed.
- You don’t need less sleep as you age – While the total amount of sleep people get decreases with age, that doesn’t actually mean they need less sleep. Instead it just means our brains aren’t capable generating more sleep. And it’s not just the quantity of sleep that goes down as we age, it’s also the quality, since when we’re older sleep becomes more fragmented, thanks to bathroom trips, pain and more.
- Using sleeping pills won’t really give you a good night’s sleep – Walker says sleeping pills, like Ambien, don’t produce naturalistic sleep, only sedation, and sedation isn’t really sleep. Taking them won’t help you get the restorative natural benefits of sleep.
- The affects of caffeine – As we all know caffeine will affect a person’s ability to sleep. Even if you’re one of those people who says your sleep isn’t affected by caffeine, it really is, because it keeps you from getting the deep sleep that you really need, which means you’ll wake up feeling unrefreshed in the morning, which you'll drinking drink more coffee the next day, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
- The affects of alcohol – Like sleeping pills, alcohol will serve as a sedative so you’re being knocked out, not actually getting a naturalistic sleep. It also tends to fragment your sleep, which will have you waking up several times, even though you may not remember it.