Studies show that your brain has to work harder to do the same amount of thinking when you’re tired as when you’re rested. "When you’re tired, thinking requires a lot more resources and you get fatigued more quickly as a result," says Dr. Philip Gehrman PhD, assistant professor of psychology at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
Pointing to the dangers of sleep deprivation, Dr. Gerhman mentions disasters like Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. "A lot of the major industrial accidents of the last 100 years are at least partly attributable to people being sleep deprived," he said. Additionally, insufficient sleep can make people very irritable.
Dr. Gehrman has provided the following sleep hygiene tips:
- Avoid caffeine after lunch. Caffeine can linger in your system for 10-12 hours.
- Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it keeps you at a light stage of sleep with poor quality. Even if you sleep for a while, you may not feel well rested the next day.
- Have a wind-down period 30-60 minutes before going to bed. Do relaxing things that don’t require a lot of mental energy.
- Your bed should not be your living room. If you make a habit of watching TV or reading in bed, your brain won’t know what is supposed to happen when you lay down to go to sleep.
- Avoid napping excessively. Napping a lot can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
- Keep a consistent schedule for going to bed and waking up. This allows your body to develop a natural rhythm and can improve the quality of your sleep.
- If you can’t fall asleep, don’t linger in bed. If you’ve been trying to fall asleep for about 15-20 minutes, whether it’s the beginning or middle of the night, you should get out of bed and do something relaxing. Then come back to bed when you feel ready to sleep.
"Another reason for getting a good night’s sleep", says Dr. Gehrman, "is that when people are sleep deprived, or only getting about six hours a night, their bodies actually enter a pre-diabetic state, meaning they’re bodies aren’t regulating its hormones in an efficient manner. So not only do you process food differently when you’re tired, in a way that is more likely to store food as fat, but you actually crave higher-fat food at the same time, so it’s kind of a double whammy."
Typically adults need between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night. Non-REM sleep enables our bodies to reenergize and restore themselves, while REM sleep is necessary for learning. "If you go to bed too late, you may miss the opportunity to have REM sleep," he said. "So if you’re not sleeping on a consistent schedule and at regular hours, then you can miss out on one or the other type of sleep."