Sleep is an important part of health and well being. Ensuring enough sleep plays a vital role in physical, mental and emotional functioning. It is a common struggle for most people. 

Individuals may sleep less to fit in their hectic schedules however sleep studies have found that sleeping less than 6 hours sleep per night is not enough. 

Sleep Quality vs Sleep Quantity

Sleep quantity is the amount of hours a person spends asleep while sleep quality refers to how deeply one would be sleeping. These both are important. Sleep is broken into various stages through which we go through multiple times a night. The stages play a role in repairing cells and preparing the body for the next day. 

For a well rested sleep, we should spend adequate time in each stage of sleep and without waking up too many times. The quality of sleep is hard to estimate, it is something which can easily be over/under estimated. A quality sleep cycle is critical for the mind and body. It is important for mental as well as physical health, immune system function, appetite regulation, cell and tissue repair. 

Sleep disorders such as insomnia can also interfere with performance issues, mood changes and daytime sleepiness.

Circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions. It is important to keep a consistent routine and sleep schedule to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. 

Although the afternoon slump is quite natural, waking up feeling unrefreshed after a night’s sleep, or having trouble during a work day could be signs of sleep deprivation. Sleeping on day off is a sign that work week sleep hours are not enough and often this can present as feeling drowsy whilst watching tv, attending class/meeting or sitting in traffic. 

A very sleep deprived person may experience microsleep, in which they fall asleep for just a few seconds at a time. If this becomes a regular occurrence, people may believe they have adapted to less sleep however it makes people more irritable, anxious and depressed. They can also suffer with lack of attention or decreased reaction time. 

Is 6 hours of sleep enough?

As per the National Sleep Foundation newborns and infants need 12-17 hours of sleep whereas toddlers need 11 to 14 hours per day. Children aged 3-5 years need 10-13 hours per day whereas primary school children need 9-11 hours per day. The age groups from 13 onwards need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep each day. Hence for healthy sleep cycles, 6 hours is insufficient sleep.

It is in our deep sleep when our body strengthens muscle, bones, tissue and immune function and hence it’s important that we get enough deep sleep to help the brain and body prepare. Usually we fall into deep sleep within an hour of falling asleep and typically spend upto 20% of the night in the stages of deep sleep. 

Short term consequences of lack of sleep

Sleep loss can have immediate effects of daytime drowsiness, reduced motivation and lack of energy. It can include trouble concentrating as well as problems with memory, learning and problem solving. Having consistently less sleep can cause impaired decision making, higher chance of accidents and increased risks especially in older adults.

Sleep deprivation can cause irritability and restlessness as well as difficulty to manage emotions. Prolonged sleep issues can increase the risk of developing mental health issues like depression. 

Furthermore to feeling fatigued, individuals can get generally unwell if sleep is an issue. A couple’s sex drive can also derail due to lack of sleep. Insufficient sleep affects the overall quality of life. 

When individuals are running short on sleep, they may notice they have poor coordination and slow reaction time when they run short on sleep. If sleep deprived, athletes run more slowly, show less strength and are unable to perform best to their ability. 

Long term consequences of sleep deprivation

In the long run, consistent sleep deprivation has been associated with a higher risk of chronic health conditions. These can include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders consisting of depression and anxiety. 

Children are the opposite and tend to act out and be hyperactive when they get insufficient sleep. Kids may also have trouble paying attention in school. Mood swings, anger, being impulse and sadness can be due to sleep loss. 

There are daily responsibilities and mental stressors which affect our ability to sleep. Our work schedules can affect the sleep wake cycle leading to poor or insufficient sleep. Familial and social obligations can also take up time especially when they take place in the evening. 

Sleep delaying can be tempting, it has low priority in comparison to other activities. Especially if individuals are consuming alcohol and drugs can interfere with the body’s natural rhythms and make it more difficult to drift to sleep. Other health conditions like anxiety, depression, chronic pain and sleep apnea can also contribute to not getting enough sleep.

How to improve sleep quality?

There are multiple strategies which can be implemented to improve sleep habits.

  • Establishing a consistent sleep schedule where one goes to bed and wakes up at the same time every day. This helps regulate the body’s internal clock.
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine by engaging in calming activities before bed. These could be reading, listening to music, practicing relaxation techniques or deep breathing. 
  • Create a good sleep environment by keeping the room within your comfort zone, be it dark, quiet room or investing in a mattress which helps you sleep better. 
  • Limiting electronic devices close to bedtime can limit the blue light emitted which can disrupt sleep patterns. 

Consult a doctor

If the sleep issues have been persisting for a few months or improving sleep habits have not been helpful, consulting with a doctor to prescribe sleep aids and determine the underlying cause would be beneficial.

Consult a doctor