Whether you’re recovering from a substance use disorder or a mental health issue, adequate sleep is a crucial element of a healthy lifestyle. In terms of mood and mental performance, it may even be the most important element. Insomnia, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, and inadequate sleep have been linked to mental health issues, including depression and anxiety disorders. One study of more than 1000 adults between the ages of 21 and 30 found that participants who reported insomnia were four times more likely to develop major depression over the next three years. Another study, which observed more than 1000 adolescents, found that sleep problems preceded anxiety disorders in 27 percent of cases and preceded depression in 69 percent of cases. There is a large overlap among anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders and these conditions interact in complex ways. Therefore, it’s crucial to manage mood through adequate sleep and other healthy lifestyle changes in addition to professional treatment.
Sleep deficit impairs your thinking
Although most people are aware to some extent that sleep is important, we often get conflicting information on just how much sleep we need. On top of that, everyone is a little bit different. Some people can’t function on less than eight hours while others insist they are fine with six. And, of course, many people feel like they have too much to do and have no choice but to skimp on sleep.
Unfortunately, more and more research is showing that sacrificing sleep to be more productive is a false economy. Several studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between sleep deprivation and cognitive decline. One study divided participants into four groups — one that slept eight hours a night, one that slept six hours, one that slept four hours, and one that didn’t sleep at all. Each group was given various cognitive tests over the following two weeks, but the group that was completely sleep-deprived was only sleep-deprived for three days. The study found that the accumulated deficit from sleeping six hours a night or less was equal to two nights of total sleep deprivation.
What’s really insidious, the researchers found was that participants were largely unaware of how their sleep deficit affected their cognitive performance. The groups that slept six hours or less reached a plateau on their reported levels of fatigue, yet their cognitive function continued to decline. That suggests that people who believe they can get by on six hours of sleep or less are probably more impaired than they realize. This can have far-reaching effects, including how safely you drive, how efficiently you solve problems, and how effectively you regulate your emotions under stress.
You can make up for it on the weekends, right?
Most people who don’t get quite enough sleep during the week try to make up for it by sleeping a little more on the weekends. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be enough. Another study on sleep deficits and cognitive performance found similar declines as the study above but this study was also interested in how fast people could bounce back from a chronic sleep deficit. Therefore, the researchers added a three-day recovery period during which participants from all groups could sleep a full eight hours. For this study, participants slept either three, five, seven, or nine hours.
The group that slept nine hours, predictably, showed no cognitive decline over the week-long study, while the seven-hour group and five-hour group showed declines that stabilized after a few days. The three-hour group continued to decline throughout the study. The surprise came during the recovery phase. The three-hour group quickly bounced back, but only to the same levels as the five and seven-hour groups, then stabilized. The five and seven-hour groups showed no recovery over three days with eight hours of sleep. We get two valuable insights from this study: first, seven hours is too little sleep for most people and, second, a weekend is not enough time to recover from even a moderate sleep deficit.
What can you do?
It may be discouraging to learn that sleeping late on the weekends is not making up for your sleep deficit. You can eventually make up for the deficit, but you have to commit to getting more sleep during the week. Although most sources seem to indicate you need seven to nine hours a night, the real minimum is probably closer to eight hours. The first study above didn’t find notable impairment in the eight-hour group, whereas the second did find notable and progressive impairment in the seven-hour group on similar kinds of tests. Some people may need a little more than eight hours a night, but very few can thrive with less.
Naps may be one solution to repaying a sleep deficit. Cultures that sleep less at night typically make up for it with a mid-afternoon nap. This may be an especially good solution during the summer when the hotter weather and shorter nights are less conducive to sleep. Having an afternoon nap does require a certain amount of flexibility in your schedule unless you happen to live in a culture where siestas are the norm.
For everyone else, getting adequate sleep is a matter of making sleep a priority. It’s a good idea to block off at least nine hours just to be safe since few people immediately fall asleep at bedtime and immediately wake up with the alarm. Giving yourself pace takes some of the anxiety out of getting adequate sleep. It’s also important to improve the quality of your sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene by sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet room. Don’t watch TV or look at your phone in bed, but rather lie right down to sleep so your brain learns to associate getting into bed with sleeping. Finally, try to keep a regular sleep schedule. Sleep is actually a complicated physiological process and sleeping regular hours allows your body to get into an efficient rhythm.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 800.910.9299.