Okay. Real talk time. We’ve all had to pull the occasional all-nighter, whether it’s to finish up work, take care of your children or play a video game ( I know who you are!!) In my twenties, I co-founded a marketing agency, and there were a few times where I slept in the office because I thought “I didn’t have time to go home.” So, instead of wasting 1.5 hours on commuting, I would stay at the office all night, sleep for 1.5 hours and then get back to business.
I can’t stress enough how terrible this is for your body. My lack of sleep and incredible amounts of stress were big contributors my worsening autoimmune conditions. What's more, studies have demonstrated that keeping your body awake for just 17 to 19 hours straight impacts performance more than a blood-alcohol level of .1 percent* (the legal limit in most Western European countries). This seemingly innocuous level of sleep deprivation slows a person’s reaction time down by 50 percent compared to a person who is well-rested. So, if you’re driving your children around, or attempting to deliver a killer presentation, just keep in mind that you’re basically performing drunk.
So, what is the optimal amount of sleep?
It’s not the 8 hours the old adage would make you think. Though every body is different and needs varying levels of sleep and self-care Daniel Kripke, arguably the world’s most accomplished sleep researcher, says people that get between 6.5 and 7.5 hours of sleep per night are the happiest and most productive, and they live the longest. When we sleep, our body is focused on much-needed repair work. It’s the key to feeling energized, looking younger, staying slimmer and having a better functioning brain. On the flip side, too much sleep (anything in excess of eight hours per night) is actually correlated with significantly higher mortality rates. Though, the research does point to lifestyle factors as contributors. So when it comes to sleep, balance is everything.
Can we make up for lost sleep?
Many of my clients suffer from imbalanced sleep—they’ll get roughly 4-5 hours per week night and then attempt to “catch up” on the weekends. But, can we actually make up lost sleep? A recent sleep study found that sleepiness, inflammation and stress hormones all returned to normal after weekend recovery sleep. However, measurements on performance tests that assessed participants ability to pay attention, significantly deteriorated after sleep deprivation and didn’t improve after recovery sleep. That is to suggest, weekday sleep debt can’t be recouped over just one weekend.
So what’s a busy professional to do in order to get the healthy amount of shut-eye?
- Turn off all phones, computers, TVs, etc. an hour before bed. The blue light emitted from them tricks our brain into believing it’s time to be awake.
- Keep your temperature between 65 and 69 degrees, as this is optimal for a sound slumber. Studies suggest that is where our bodies find the best sleep. Rachel Salas, MD, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in sleep medicine, cites a National Sleep Foundation study that puts the magic number at 65 degrees. But this largely depends on your body and resting metabolic rate, so test temperatures in this range.
- Cut out cured meats and cheese before bed. They trigger the release of norepinephrine which can make us feel alert and wired.
- Try a few relaxing yoga poses such as corpse pose, relaxing hero pose or legs up the wall pose.
- Enlist a professional. Acupuncture is proven to provide relief to insomniacs. If you’re in NYC, check out my dear friend and DAOM, Dr. Sarah Emily Sajdak.
- Supplement! Melatonin, kava kava, Gabba and valerian root can also help to provide relief from sleepless nights. Don’t self-medicate though: Share your concerns with your doctor or healthcare professional for recommendations that are safest for you.
- Set healthy boundaries. My clients who usually have to pull the all-nighters are often the ones who raise their hands first to volunteer for extra work. While we know we might have to occasionally accommodate work at off hours, always self-sacrificing to “prove” yourself will only make you ill. Set promises to yourself about what you’re willing to do and what you’re not. If cutting into sleep consistently is on that list, make sure you have the necessary conversations to set you up for success in that way.
- Meditate or do some breathing. Another biggie with my insomniac clients is unmanaged stress. They come home late and their minds are racing going through the day and all that took place. When you’re trying to fall asleep it’s important to try and get out of your head and into your body. A short meditation or breathing exercise like the 4-7-8 breath is a great place to start.