Good Medicine Everyday: Sleep / by emily penn

Without sleep, everything else you do for your health is pretty much for naught. Sleep is the baseline, your lifeline. I cannot stress enough the importance of sleep - not just quantity, but quality. Sleep is free and one of the most basic things we can do for our health, but feeling like we don’t have enough time is what gets most people tripped up. Some people even feel guilty for sleeping! I encourage you to drop that right now. It needs to be prioritized. You charge your phone at night, right? No one and nothing else is going to charge YOUR battery for YOU.


So what happens if you don’t get enough sleep?

  • You feel tired, obviously

  • Poor cognitive function and brain fog

  • Elevated blood sugar...

  • ...which leads you to crave carbs and sugar…

  • ...which puts you on a blood sugar roller coaster all day long

  • Bad mood (plus all the things associated with that - like being short with people we love, being a jerk to our coworkers, etc.)

  • For some of us, anxiety and depression

  • Weakened immunity, which can lead to getting sick more often

  • Difficulty maintaining a healthy weight

  • Increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes

So how much sleep do we need? We’ve all heard “8 hours” enough times that it’s drilled in our brains. But we also get messages like “sleep is for the weak” or “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or hear about CEOs bragging that they only need 5 hours. The short answer - everybody’s a little different. Finding your sleep sweet spot will take a little experimentation, but it’s generally between 7 and 9 hours.

New research suggests we should view sleep by how many ninety-minute sleep cycles we get per week, rather than becoming overly focused with how many hours we get per night. We should aim for 35 sleep cycles per week. This includes naps! And this helps take some of the pressure off of always getting 8 hours every night. (which can be anxiety-inducing for some people).

I’ve personally never been a napper and find it really hard to sleep during the day, so I always prioritize my sleep at night. I generally get around 8 hours. I go to sleep between 9 and 10 and I’m usually up around 6. Even when I was younger, I intuitively knew I had to get good sleep to feel good. Fun fact - I’ve never pulled an all-nighter, not even in college. If I had a lot of work to do, I would go to sleep at a decent hour and wake up extra early to work on it. But hey, that’s just what works for me.

A few other tips to ensure the quality of your sleep:

  • Sleep in a really dark room - get blackout curtains, cover up lights from devices

  • Keep the room cool

  • Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only

  • Turn off Wifi at night, put your phone on airplane mode or even better - move it out of the bedroom

  • No screens 1 hour before bed

  • Write down your to-dos for tomorrow or journal to clear your brain of any thoughts that might keep you up

Here's to more and better sleep!