Research shows that most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Consistently falling short of these figures can compromise your health and even shorten your life. I won’t give you the long version, but studies have shown that, among other things, sleep deprivation: negatively affects the heart, lungs and kidneys; slows metabolism and leads to weight gain; makes people more susceptible to colds and flu; impairs memory, learning and problem-solving; and is a risk factor for depression.
The fact that you’re waking in the middle of the night is not necessarily a sign that anything is wrong. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that “segmented” sleep can be as effective as a single block of sleep, so long as you’re getting a total of seven to eight hours.
Scientific evidence tells us that sleep is the time when the brain’s physiological maintenance systems kick in. Without adequate shut-eye, your cellular janitors won’t have time to clean up all the waste left over from a day’s worth of thinking. So be sure not to shortchange yourself, because a brain filled with cognitive trash will not serve you well.
Stephen Prescott, a physician and medical researcher, is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Adam Cohen is a marathoner and OMRF’s senior vice president and general counsel.
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At a glance
Five tips to optimize your chances of getting a solid night of sleep
1. Drink less caffeine, and none in the evening.
2. Exercise during the day, but not in the five to six hours before bed.
3. Go to bed at the same time each night.
4. No computers, tablets or smartphones in the hour before bed.
5. Leave your phone in the other room while you sleep.