Sleep

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of sleep.  Like water, most of us don’t get enough of it.  And perhaps fewer of us pay attention to the effects it has on our bodies.  That’s often because a lot of us get used to not having the amount of sleep we actually need.

We have all experienced times of little or no sleep.  Maybe an “all-nighter” finishing homework, traveling to another time zone, or just goofing around all night is your choice method for sleep deprivation.  The next day is usually just miserable.   You are just sooo tired.  It is difficult to think, respond quickly, and even stay awake.

Consistency

Now imagine that you get just a little less sleep than your body needs night after night.  The effects are so small that you don’t really notice it compounding day after day.  So what’s the difference between having one “all-nighter” and not getting enough sleep (even small amounts) over a long period of time?  The answer: it may be worse to get a little less over time than have one “all-nighter” now and again.  The reason is simple.  If you are sleep deprived say 30 minutes a night for a month, you have “lost” 15 hours of sleep over the course of the month.  On the other hand, if you have one or two bad nights with a 4 hour deficiency, you’re only 8 hours “deficient.”

Now I did not say that it is better to have an all-nighter than to lose a little sleep every night.  There is no real correlation.  But I wanted to drive home the idea of consistency.  That’s what makes a good sleep pattern.  You need to get enough sleep every night, not some nights.  We all know this isn’t always possible, but you should be as consistent as you can.

Many people (including me) want to believe they can sleep in to make up for lost sleep.  While this is not entirely false, let’s illustrate with an example why it is deceiving.  Assume 8 hours is the prime amount of time for sleep.  You sleep for 3 hours one night and 13 hours the next.  First of all it is doubtful you could sleep for 13 hours under less than very extreme circumstances.  But even if you did, would that be the same as two eight hour nights?  Try it another way.  Let’s say you ate 1 meal in a day and 5 meals the next.  Is that the same as 3 meals a day for 2 days?  Certainly this is not the case; I hope you see the point.

Duration

The other “biggie” that goes hand-in-hand with consistency is duration, or how long you sleep.  Some people only sleep 4 hours a night and that is enough for them.  Others need 7 or 8.  Most of us can tell about what works for us since we have slept so many times.  Figure out what seems the best for you and strive to get that amount every night.

For instance, if I’m an 8 hour guy (most people are), and I need to be up at 7 a.m., then I need to go to bed at about 10 or 10:30 every night.  Don’t forget to account for time to fall asleep too (that’s why I would go to bedbefore 11:00).  If you go to bed at 11, but don’t fall asleep until 11:40, 7 a.m. comes in less than 8 hours.

Napping

What happens if you have a bad night?  Maybe you got to bed late, couldn’t get to sleep, or couldn’t stay asleep.  Whatever the reason, napping is something to be avoided.  The more you nap the more it becomes a part of your routine and your body begins to expect it.

It will also throw off your consistency and duration.  If you just can’t stand it, set an alarm and take a 10-15 min. nap.  The best thing to do is just stay awake until your appointed bedtime.  It is also OK to go to bed a little early too.  The bottom line is, be cautious with napping because it can throw a kink into your sleeping patterns.