In light of the recent tragic stories involving depression and suicide, I’d like to say a brief word about this topic. As women, our rates of depression are almost twice that of men. I believe it’s imperative for each of us to be proactive about our own emotional health, and good sleep is one key way we can accomplish that.
I know: you’re busy! You barely walked in the door and there’s still so much to do. So just stay up late to get everything done, then catch up on sleep over the weekend. Right?
I wish this was possible, but the cold hard facts tell us otherwise. Instead of encouraging you to burn the midnight oil, my advice is: Go get some sleep.
Americans are sleep deprived and many of us have experienced this first hand. We know that adults require 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Older teens need 8-10 hours, and younger teens thrive best on at least 10 hours of sleep per night. Yet you know what’s coming next: the realities of sleep. The 2014 National Sleep Foundation survey showed that only 10% of 15-17 year olds sleep 9 hours or more, and 60% of them sleep less than 7 hours per night. Among 6-11 year olds, almost 25% sleep only 8 hours per night. And this is on a school night. Similarly, a 2014 survey by the Centers for Disease Control found that out of 450,000 adults, nearly one third typically slept less than 7 hours per night - the critical point beyond which sleep begins to have significant impact on physical and emotional health. Almost a quarter of all respondents reported getting 6 or less hours of sleep per night.
Does that matter? Does missing a few hours of sleep every week really make that much of a difference?
The answer is yes. Although sleep deprivation doesn’t necessarily impact us in the short term (except for crankiness and overspending at Starbucks), the impact over time packs a more serious punch.
Research consistently demonstrates that sleep is a major pillar of good emotional and physical health. Poor-quality sleep can negatively affect a host of medical issues including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It’s becoming apparent that sleep functions as a type of re-booting mechanism for multiple organ systems, a consistent nightly housecleaning that helps to maintain overall health. We also know that the body does not physiologically recover from weeknight sleep deprivation by making up for it all at once on weekends.
Especially salient for us as women is the role of sleep in depression. Did you know that depression affects approximately 16 million people in the U.S. every year - and that the rates of depression are twice as high for women as for men? Risk rises along with the hormonal fluctuations that occur during menstrual cycles, post-partum periods, and peri-menopause. Furthermore we know that rates of depression rise sharply after puberty, again significantly more for adolescent girls than boys. In this state of increased risk, it's important to know that sleep deprivation is associated with higher rates of depression. The relationship goes both ways: depression also leads to poor sleep, and it's one of the key symptoms we monitor when treating depression. Whether you are trying to inoculate against or recover from depression, good sleep is your friend.
The positive news is that people who self-report good sleep also report significantly higher rates of excellent physical health, mental health, and overall quality of life.
SO: given that sleep can make such a difference to our emotional and physical health, what can each of us do to get a better night’s rest? Here are several steps you can take:
Take home message: If you make sleep a priority and set up some simple parameters, you can significantly improve your chances of consistently getting a healthy night’s rest. This is an excellent way to boost your physical and emotional well-being. Now, go get some sleep!