Ever find yourself feeling like Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street? Not in that sense that a sleep demon lurks around at night, waiting for you to fall into blissful slumber, but rather that you just can’t fall asleep or stay asleep.
Maybe you wake up throughout the night. Maybe you sleep but still feel exhausted in the morning. Perhaps the issue isn’t falling and staying asleep, but the nightmares or unsettling dreams that you have while sleeping.
It’s possible that you only experience poor sleep once in a blue moon. But, when you wake up on that one fluke morning, you realize throughout the day that you’re groggy and slow to respond to people’s questions and movements. Or worse, you’re irritable and snap when you normally wouldn’t.
Unhealthy Sleep Habits
Whatever the case may be, unhealthy sleep habits, frequent or infrequent, affect us. Poor sleep can create enormous obstacles for our health and well-being, especially in treatment or recovery from a substance use disorder.
Maybe you have friends who sleep just three to four hours a night without any apparent side effects. They’re active, they don’t need coffee, and they’re upbeat and optimistic. They may even brag about their ability to stay up all night and later appear at work as if they’ve slept a restorative eight hours.
While a small percentage of people are short sleepers who have a genetic sleep disorder that prevents them from sleeping as much as their bodies would like, most people who claim they need little to no sleep are actually sleep-deprived. Their bodies have tricked themselves into thinking otherwise in order to continue functioning.
So, How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The amount varies from person to person, but we can generally group sleep needs by age:
- Babies, infants and toddlers: 12-15 hours
- Kids ages 6-12: 9-11 hours
- Teens: 8-10 hours
- Young adults (19-25): 7-9 hours
- Adults 26-64: 7-9 hours
- Seniors 65+: 7-8 hours
Notice that for none of the age brackets do we see an amount less than seven hours. So, how do we achieve more than six hours a night? Stick to a routine, using the following steps:
- Sleep and wake with regularly: aim to go to bed and rise around the same time each night and day, even on weekends.
- Get your vitamin D! Sunlight exposure, about 15 minutes at any point of the day, regulates our bodies’ production of melatonin.
- A little sweat never hurt anybody! Regular exercise helps your body gravitate toward sleep when the moment comes–just try not to work out too close to bedtime.
- Ditch the coffee and the cocktails. Caffeine and alcohol impede sleep.
- Temperature plays a role: keep your sleep space between 65 and 75 degrees.
Easier said than done!
The Concept of Sleep Debt
So what if you’ve tried all of this advice and still can’t sleep well? First of all, don’t get caught in anxiety about sleep. There’s no need to spin out about sleep deprivation, or feel that we’ve mistreated our bodies if a delayed flight or stressful experience keeps us up at night. We should aim to cover a weekly quota of sleep, without obsessing over how much rest we get nightly.
We can pay back what scientists call sleep debt, the difference between how much sleep we need and how much we actually get.
The important idea to understand is that we can get along fine with a reasonable amount of debt in the short-term–but excessive debt long-term can be disastrous.
And if you can’t sleep well at night, consider napping. Power naps are great options for many people who find themselves unable to sleep for more than seven straight hours at night.
Ideally, a power nap lasts from anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes. In the best case scenario, a good nap that will jolt us back into productivity lasts 20 minutes, the cut-off range for restoring attention and reaction time.
Let Us Help
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use, St. Gregory Recovery Center can help. Our compassionate, nonjudgmental counselors will provide the resources and support you need to overcome your addiction and establish the healthy routines and sleep habits that will keep your sobriety intact. Contact us today.