With today’s around-the-clock demands, the vast majority of Americans are operating with a sleep deficit. That’s a problem because the human body requires sufficient rest to function at its best. The good news: According to a recent study, you may not have to get the recommended seven to nine hours of shuteye each night to gain a competitive edge.
Researchers adjusted the sleep schedule of professional baseball players to ensure they got an extra 30 minutes of sleep each night for five consecutive nights (from an average of 6.3 hours each night to 6.9 a night). Turns out, the added sleep dramatically improved the players’ response time – and that’s significant when you consider that it takes an estimated 400 milliseconds for a fastball to travel from the pitcher to the hitter.
Meeta Singh, M.D., a sleep specialist at Henry Ford Health System, says the study findings are relevant to the general population, too. “Baseball players play 162 games a year — often late at night — and they travel, so they’re chronically sleep deprived,” Singh says. “The average American is also chronically sleep deprived.” (Sleeping less than seven hours each night.)
Too little sleep not only impacts your physical and mental performance, it also affects your ability to make good decisions. It’s a bit like being intoxicated. You may have a harder time focusing on a task, reacting to a situation or remembering new information. Sleep deprivation is also linked to heart-compromising conditions including weight gain, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, so it’s not harmless.
How to Fix a Sleep Deficit
Logging in extra sleep on the weekends is helpful, but a better approach is to get an additional 30 minutes of sleep each night – weeknights and weekends alike. Singh’s advice: Calculate what time you need to go to bed to get eight hours of sleep. Then start winding down an hour before that time. Shut down all devices, dim lights, take a warm bath or meditate. Still can’t squeeze in eight hours? Don’t underestimate the power of a 20-minute nap.
“Sleep is one of the easiest things you can do to improve your performance,” Singh says. “You have to give yourself the permission to take a break from our 24/7 society.”
To find a doctor or sleep specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). You can also read more wellness advice in our FeelWell section, so subscribe to get all the latest tips.