We all want sleep to be a priority in our life, but according to one sleep expert, a lot of us just don't put in the effort.
From being glued to our devices before snooze time to eating large meals before bed to even getting by with four to five hours of sleep daily, many of us don't see how important sleep is for our overall health.
"A majority of people are getting five to six hours of sleep every night," says sleep consultant Alanna McGinn, who is also the founder of Good Night Sleep in Burlington, Ont. "When we look at sleep, nutrition and exercises, sleep is low on this list of things to do."
And it turns out on a global scale, a majority of the world is not getting enough sleep either, according to scientists from the University of Michigan.
"We find that social pressures weaken and/or conceal biological drives in the evening, leading individuals to delay their bedtime and shorten their sleep," they wrote in their report, adding middle-aged men got the least amount of sleep.
McGinn says on average, we should all be aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep every night. It sounds easy, but most of us can't make this commitment.
Many Canadians also suffer from various sleeping disorders including insomnia and sleep apnea or have trouble falling asleep due to things like medication side effects or other health issues.
Below, McGinn answers some of our questions on getting enough sleep.
From how to avoid waking up tired to how long your naps should be, McGinn urges everyone to rethink their sleep schedules for the upcoming week.
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How many hours of sleep should I be getting? According to sleep consultant Alanna McGinn, who is also the founder of Good Night Sleep in Burlington, Ont., we should be aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep every single night. "The majority of people are getting five to six hours of sleep," she says. Although some people may require more or less than seven and eight hours, the majority should still aim for this amount, she adds.
Why can't I go to bed at a reasonable hour?For people who aren't able to sleep at a reasonable hour (and don't have shift work), it's often because they don't make sleep a priority, McGinn says. "Sleep is never categorized the same way as healthy eating or exercising. It is often low on the list of things to do for your body," she says. Distractions are also the biggest factors, she adds, including being on your phone late at night or watching TV.
Why am I always waking up super tired? McGinn stresses a well-rested person should wake up without an alarm clock. If you find yourself super tired, constantly hitting the snooze button or setting up three different alarm clocks, it means you're not getting enough sleep. "If you follow a consistent sleep [schedule], your body should naturally wake up on its own."
But I have all these things to do before bed... Stop making excuses. If you're tired throughout the day, you need to make sleep an important part of your day, McGinn says. "There are so many excuses: I'm too busy, I have chores, I am binge watching [something] on Netflix, my kids won't let me sleep, I have to answer e-mail..." she says. As soon as you start sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, you'll be able to manage other tasks at another time.
But I don't think I need seven to eight hours of sleep, I function just fine... McGinn says even if you don't think you need that many hours of sleep every night, sleep deprivation will catch up with you in the long run. "It doesn't happen right away, but we start seeing serious health risks like stroke, heart disease, diabetes and obesity [later on]." To put things in perspective, she adds, we all know when we gain weight, but a lot of us can't seem to pinpoint exactly how sleep affects the body.
But I work hectic hours... For anyone who works night shifts or odd hours, you have to be even more strict about getting the seven to eight hours of rest every night (or day). "You need to set boundaries and rules and try to sleep throughout the day," she says. "Take short naps, talk to people who work in a similar situation and don't eat huge meals before bed — whenever bed is."
Other bad habits you should avoid: If you're falling asleep while driving, staying up late on your device or routinely eating at late hours of the night, your body may feel sluggish throughout the day. You may also be suffering from a sleeping disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea. In this case, talk to your family doctor about getting help.
Should I be taking naps? "Naps depend on the individual. If you sleep throughout the night, a nap isn't cutting into your sleep, but if you have trouble falling asleep, a nap may be a good idea," McGinn says. And if you do nap, aim for 15 to 20 minutes — taking 30 to 60 minute naps may not be helpful for people looking to stick to a sleep schedule.
Why can't I fall asleep right away? McGinn says technology continues to be the biggest distractions of 2016. "Set up your sleep environment. Remove technology from the bedroom, sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time," she says. Staring at a screen before you go to be bed and after you wake up isn't doing anything for your eyes (or health) either.
OK, the technology is out of the room. Now what? Come up with a routine. For some people it's washing their face or working out or reading a book — whatever it is, make sure you are doing the same thing every single night before you go to bed. Your body will adjust, she adds.
We also asked some of our readers to send in their sleeping habits. From how many hours of sleep they get each night to how they feel throughout the day, McGinn also assess some of their concerns. Have you own questions? Leave them in the comments below:
Sleeping habits: "Three to four hours [a night]. My alarm is set for 2:40 a.m. and then I reset it for 3:30 a.m. If I set my alarm for when I actually need to get up, I worry I will sleep in, so I give myself one hour snooze time."
How does your sleep affect your day-to-day? "I find I work harder when I'm dead tired! Maybe it’s an adrenaline thing? I still love to have an awesome full sleep too."
Do you have trouble sleeping? If so, how? "Like most people, if I have a lot on my mind, I just stare at the ceiling and can't fall asleep. Often, my fiancé Matthew and I will go for a nightly walk to clear our minds."
Do you have any unusual or strange sleeping habits? "Don’t laugh at me if you’re reading this, but I have to use two pillows. My head goes on a harder pillow, but I also have to have a pillow resting on my forehead, of the headboard onto my forehead."
McGinn's advice: "Start focusing on the quantity of sleep, not just the quality. Going to bed earlier does cut into social and family time, but you have to adapt if you have shift work. There are risks of health issues down the road, so the focus should be on being more consistent [with sleeping habits]."
The challenge: Start getting to bed at the same time every night and aim for seven to eight hours!
The subject: Ashika Patel, on-board train services from Montreal.
Sleeping habits: "Five hours on average."
Do you have trouble sleeping? If so, how? "[I find it] very hard to sleep. The slightest sound wakes me up and it takes me a long time to get the noise from the train out of my mind."
How does your sleep affect your day-to-day? "I am always on the train so the moment I sit for a few minutes I realize how tired I am. I'm on the train anywhere from 4 a.m. to midnight. Our shifts vary from 10 to 12 to 16 to 18 hours in one day. Sleep really isn't a priority."
How do you feel when you don't get enough sleep? "I'm a bit cranky, but I get really quiet and forgetful."
McGinn's advice: "In terms of the sound, use a white noise machine or other sounds to push the commuting sound out. For getting to sleep, use an eye mask and sleep in a dark room. Work on quieting the mind, being in the present and use breathing techniques [to fall asleep]."
The challenge: Practice mindful thinking throughout the day from the moment you wake up. Also, keep a journal beside your bed and write your to-do lists, thoughts or worries down before you go to bed. This could help you get them out of your mind. Remember, it may take up to three weeks (or longer) for these habits to stick.
The subject: Emily Cornelius, 29-year-old finance corp dev from Toronto.
Sleeping habits: "Three and a half to four [hours] on average."
Do you have trouble sleeping? If so, how? "I don’t have trouble sleeping, in the sense that I lay awake or toss and turn or anything. I am well awake puttering away working, socializing, cleaning, [running] errands or watching TV until about 1 a.m. Once I lay down I am almost instantly asleep and it’s a very deep sleep — I don’t wake with slight noises or anything."
How does your sleep affect your day-to-day? "I love being awake before most people. There’s no foot-traffic if I go for a run, no street traffic if I am driving somewhere. If I go into work I can focus in the empty office. I will get more work done between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. then I will for the entire rest of the day when my colleagues are in."
How important is it for you to get a good night's rest? "I recognize the importance of sleep and health but I can easily fit what I need into my schedule as I don’t require too much. As far as being concerned about how much sleep I am getting… well… I don’t lose sleep over it."
McGinn's advice: "You can be an early riser, but again it comes back to going to bed at an appropriate time. If you struggle with falling asleep, focus on your sleeping pattern and work on developing a consistent bedtime routine. If you are only getting three to four hours of sleep, your body is just used to it and now has a lack of judgement of what it really needs."
The challenge: Get to bed at least seven hours before you want to get up and stick to the same schedule for a week.
The subject: Berhane Asghedom, 61-year-old stock trader from Mississauga.
Sleeping habits: "Seven hours."
Do you have trouble sleeping? If so, how? "I have no trouble sleeping, but I wake up a couple of times during the night."
How does your sleep affect your day-to-day? "If I didn't have a good night's sleep, I seem to not have my usual level of energy."
How do you feel when you are well-rested? "Energetic, relaxed and content."
What are your thoughts about mid-day naps? "I tend not to take a nap; if I do I stay up late."
McGinn's advice: "It is common in this age group to wake up during the night. We don't need less sleep as we get older, but we do need to make sure medications or other health concerns aren't interrupting our sleep. Talk to your doctor if this is a concern. Also look at what you do before bed. Are you checking e-mail? Looking at a screen? This could be the cause."
The challenge: Strengthen the relationship between bed and sleep — 85 per cent of time in bed should be sleeping.