Infants need sleep. Lots of sleep. We all know that. Newborns need that profound sort of sleep we can only dream about. That first month of life is filled with 20 hours of sleep every day, with the rest spent eating and pooping. There’s not much left over for anything else. This is brain growth time and it’s critical for those neurons to develop.
Toddlers and young kids follow that same pattern. But as adults, who among us could be lifted up by someone and moved to another bed and stay asleep? If we’re not drunk or on drugs, that never happens. Our sleep is different — different in quantity and different in quality.
Adults also add another element — bragging rights. Have you ever heard of someone bragging that they’ve been sleeping nine hours a night? I rather doubt it. On the other hand, I bet you’ve heard people say they’re working so hard, doing so much, producing this and that and they hardly get a wink. They seem proud that they’re burning the candle at both ends.
Now, move on to another thing, health-wise, that people are proud of — exercise. We’re proud of working out, going to the gym, doing yoga, walking those 10,000 steps. And, of course, we’re proud of eating right — the right food sourced in the right way, from the right farmers’ market perhaps. We brag about it being so fresh and wholesome.
But when are we proud of our sleep? Not often. It usually takes a back seat to everything else. This isn’t where it should be. Not at all.
In cases of people deprived of sleep — you may have read about those experiments where they keep folks up all night for days at a time — they go psycho. If you’ve traveled like I have, from coast to coast or “across the pond,” you know that sleep disturbance easily disrupts your life.
A recent study shows that sleeping longer just might reduce the desire to consume sugary foods, leading to a better diet. Researchers publishing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition took 42 folks, with half talking to a “sleep hygienist” about how to sleep longer and better and the other half receiving no such intervention.
Advice given to the “sleep extension” group included no caffeine before bedtime, establishing a regular sleep routine, not going to bed when you’re hungry and not going to bed when you’re too full. (For sleep hygiene tips, Google “sleep hygiene” and check out the National Sleep Foundation website for good advice.)
For the next week, the people in the study all wore activity monitors such as the FitBit, kept food diaries and noted how they felt throughout the day. The ones who were counseled on better sleep slept more, by about 60 to 90 minutes a night. And, get this, they also ate less sugar. They were not — I repeat, were not — counseled on diet, but when they slept more their diet changed.
Now, many of you will look at this study, roll your eyes and say, “How could he possibly talk about this? It was a short study with just a few people. This is junk science.” And if you’ve been reading my column regularly, you’d be right in raising your eyebrows.
You are right that this is anything but conclusive. But combine this with other studies — bigger and better studies that show sleeping less is associated with diabetes, for example — and it should give you pause to think.
Then there are the studies that show a 20- to 40-minute power nap (sexy name, isn’t it?) makes you more productive — something I have found incredibly effective — and you have to say, “Hmm, perhaps I should get that seven hours in bed, night in and night out.”
My spin: Take control of your schedule as best as you can. If you have circumstances you can’t control – such as the newborn baby my daughter and son-in-law just had — you’re simply out of luck for the time being. You have to wait until you can get into a better routine.
But just like you want to eat right and exercise right, you also want to sleep right. One of my trainers once said to me, “Look good, feel good, play good.” To this I add: Sleep good, too. Stay well.