Giraffes get the least amount of sleep of any mammal: 1.9 hours a day, according to the Better Sleep Council.
Koalas get the most sleep at 22 hours a day.
For humans, of course, the sweet spot is somewhere between the two extremes, but you might want to start counting koalas instead of sheep if you’re among the 30 to 40 percent of Americans who don’t get enough sleep each night.
“Humans between ages 18 to 60 need at least seven hours of sleep each night to promote optimal health and well-being,” Jordan Balencic, DO, primary care physician and CEO of ERApeutics®, explains. “People who don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis are at risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.”
Studies show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change, says Dr. Balencic, citing research from the National Institutes of Health.
Lack of sleep has also been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior, he notes.
“You don’t need a doctor to tell you that lack of sleep makes you feel bad, but you definitely should talk with your doctor if you aren’t able to get a good night’s sleep. The impacts of insufficient sleep on your physical and emotional health can be significant,” he says.
Lifestyle changes—putting aside phones and tablets before going to bed, for instance—are great ways to catch more ZZZs, Dr. Balencic says. Here are a few tips from the National Institutes of Health that he recommends you can try right away.
8 Tips for Better Sleep
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Kids benefit from having a set bedtime and a bedtime routine. (Don’t use the child’s bedroom for timeouts or punishment; make sleeping a pleasant reason to go to bed.)
- Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep–wake rhythm.
- Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
- Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (Having a light snack is okay.) Also, avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
- Avoid nicotine (for example, cigarettes and vapes) and caffeine (including caffeinated soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate). Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and both substances can interfere with sleep. The effects of caffeine can last as long as eight hours. So, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.
- Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a dim night light is fine, if needed).
- Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.
How About Sleeping Pills?
“I’m often asked about medicating for better sleep,” says Dr. Balencic. “Sleeping pills are a source of last resort, in my opinion. See your doctor, discuss your options, and carefully consider all variables before taking sleeping pills.
“I recommend natural supplements that do not contain ingredients that could interfere with any medications you are currently taking. My website ERApeutics.com contains carefully curated supplements, such as Calm CP, which calms you without causing sedating effects.
Calm CP includes banaba leaf extract, which has anti-inflammatory properties and slows cortisol production, and phosphatidylserine, a component in cell membranes that is thought to regulate stress response,” says Dr. Balencic.
If lack of sleep is a habit, make getting enough sleep a priority—until a good night’s sleep becomes your new habit.