Many people feel that they could get more done in the day if they were able to cut their snooze time. But skimping on sleep can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. You can train your body to sleep less by keeping your bedtime and wake-up times consistent. However, it is important that the quality of your sleep remains high.
Sleep is a complex biological process, and genes play a role in how much sleep you need. Some genes are known for their roles in regulating the circadian rhythm, while others affect how long you stay asleep or wake up.
In 2009, Ying-Hui Fu, a neurology professor who studies sleep genes at UC San Francisco, identified a family of natural short sleepers, who slept six to eight hours a night and functioned just fine during the day. She found that the family members shared a mutation in a gene called DEC2.
This genetic variant weakens the DEC2 protein, which normally puts the brakes on another gene, MyoD1. As a result, the gene produces less orexin, making you stay awake longer and reduces your sleep time.
Researchers are working to understand how these and other genes work together to govern your sleep-wake cycles, and whether they contribute to disorders like restless leg syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMS). Getting too little sleep disrupts hundreds of genes that are important for health, including those involved in metabolism, stress hormones and the immune system.
Feel sleepy after eating? Many factors can interfere with sleep, including a variety of behavioral and health problems. A good night’s rest is essential for mental clarity, memory and mood control. Some of these problems include poor eating habits, which can cause you to feel hungrier; stress that makes it harder to fall asleep; and medications such as stimulants and corticosteroids. In addition, some mental health conditions can disrupt your sleep, including depression and parasomnias such as night terrors or sleep walking.
Habits are a combination of situations, cues and responses that allow you to perform certain behaviors without thinking about them. For example, reaching for a cigarette after waking up is a habit, as is buckling your seatbelt each time you get in the car. These habits can be harmful or health-promoting.
Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule can improve your quality of sleep, so try to wake up and go to bed at the same times every day, even on weekends. It’s also important to avoid having meals within a few hours of your bedtime and to limit naps to 20 minutes.
In some cases, the environment may make it more difficult to get a good night of sleep. Noise pollution, inopportune light exposure, and unsafe neighborhoods can interfere with the body’s natural sleep cycles. Additionally, work and social obligations can interfere with the ability to sleep a full night.
A lack of sleep can lead to daytime fatigue, concentration problems, weakened immune systems, and weight gain. The best way to avoid these effects is to follow a regular schedule that includes 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
It’s important to note that there is no such thing as “training your body” to need less sleep. The sleep your body needs is critical for its operation, such as repairing tissues, storing memories, regulating hormones, and sustaining healthy functioning throughout the day. Unfortunately, there is no way to train your body to function on less sleep and doing so can be dangerous in the long run. Instead, focus on practicing good sleep hygiene to remove any common self-imposed obstacles to getting a sufficient amount of restful, quality sleep.
Exercise is essential for good health, but it can also interfere with sleep if you aren’t careful. Getting too little sleep can slow your reaction time and decision making, lower motivation and increase the risk of injury. But you can mitigate these effects with regular exercise and good habits.
The best exercise for sleep is moderate intensity, such as a brisk walk, yoga or light weight training. Exercise can also help regulate the circadian rhythm and prevent insomnia. The timing of your exercise is important, too. Try to do your workouts earlier in the day so you aren’t exercising right before bedtime and raising your body temperature. And don’t go to bed stuffed with a post-exercise meal or with a rumbling tummy, which can disrupt your sleep as well.
A lack of sleep has been linked to a wide range of health conditions, including increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis. But it’s possible to train your body to need less sleep by adjusting your routine and habits, even in the face of genetic factors that make you a short sleeper.
Getting adequate sleep is crucial for good health, but it isn’t always easy. Often, people who are chronically tired even after a full night’s rest have sleep disorders that need to be treated.
Typically, people need seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep for the deep restorative sleep that promotes mental alertness and physical health. Sleep apnea, which is caused by partial or complete blockage of the airway (obstructive sleep apnea) or the brain’s inability to properly control breathing (central sleep apnea), interrupts the flow of oxygen to the body. This results in a series of micro-awakenings and a lack of deep sleep.
In addition, sleep apnea can weaken the immune system, causing an increased risk for disease and infection, as well as irritability and problems with concentration and memory. Loud snoring can disrupt family and social life and cause stress to relationships, as can the drowsiness and difficulty staying awake throughout the day. Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to heart disease and stroke. In fact, a study published in 2015 found that sleep disturbances were linked to changes in the brain’s white matter, similar to that seen in older adults who have had a stroke or heart attack.