2 Big Sleep Red Flags You Shouldn't Ignore (Plus, How To Fix Them)
How do you know if you are getting enough time in each sleep stage? How do you know if the quality of your sleep is good enough to keep your body's trains running on time?
According to Shelby Harris, PsyD, DBSM, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, it's as simple as being aware of how you feel during the day. Understanding your own norms—what does a good day feel like in terms of energy and alertness throughout the day? After you wake up, how long does it take you to get to your highest energy zone of the day—is it an hour after you wake up, two hours, three?
Harris cautions that it's unrealistic to expect yourself to bound out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning. Something called sleep inertia gets in the way of us being that excited to wake up. Generally, it takes between two and three hours to feel fully alert (taking caffeine out of the equation).
So, if you typically wake up at 7 a.m. and you're still yawning on the conference call at 11 a.m., that might be a sign that you're not getting the amount or quality of sleep that your body needs. The same goes for prolonged periods of sleepiness or fatigue. Harris says that "it's normal to have moments of being sleepy, those dips in your circadian rhythm throughout the day, like after lunch or after dinner."
Sleepiness, fatigue, and even naps are fine as long as they are every once in a while, but if you find yourself consistently relying on caffeine in the afternoon to stay awake, it's important to look more closely at your sleep quality and quantity.
Here are a couple of not‑so‑obvious signs that you might not be maximizing your time between the sheets.
You use the weekend to catch up
Warning Flag No. 1: One sign that you might not be getting enough sleep is if you rely on the weekends to catch up.
Many people will clock in around six hours of sleep during weeknights and then sleep like teenagers on the weekend. Experts agree that sleep debt is real, and just like the kind that goes on your credit card, too much is bad news.
Unfortunately, sleep debt is even harder to pay off because you only have so many hours on the weekend. If your baseline is eight, but you're getting six hours of sleep five nights a week in the middle of the week, you're missing out on 10 hours. Even if you sleep an extra two hours on Saturday and Sunday, you're still in the hole by six hours. Over time, it accumulates, and the next thing you know, you're chronically sleep deprived.
You overuse sleep aids
Warning Flag No. 2: Many people turn to prescription sleep aids when they find themselves struggling to sleep. Often this is something you might dip into if you are going through a stressful moment in your life but stop using them as soon as you can.
Sleep experts say using sleep aids occasionally is not necessarily a sign that you aren't getting healthy sleep, as long as it's temporary. But we all know someone who takes Benadryl every night just to get some shut-eye. And that, friends, is a red flag.
Going back to first principles: Your body knows how to sleep, and if you can't sleep without pharmaceuticals, that is something to look at more closely. Try to get to the root of the problem first, and lean on gentler sleep supplements as needed for extra support.
If you feel tired all the time, you're probably not getting the sleep you need. If you're relying on coffee to keep you awake in the afternoon and sleep aids to get a minimum amount of sleep at night, you're probably stuck in a vicious cycle.
Excerpted from The Joy of Well-Being by Colleen Wachob and Jason Wachob. Copyright © 2023 by Colleen Wachob and Jason Wachob. Reprinted with permission of Balance Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved.
Colleen Wachob is Co-Founder and Co-CEO at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Stanford University with degrees in international relations and Spanish, and spent 10 years working at Fortune 500 companies including Gap, Walmart, and Amazon.
Jason Wachob is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen. He is also the host of the popular mindbodygreen podcast and the bestselling author of Wellth: How I Learned to Build a Life, Not a Resume. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider, BoF, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years. You can find him on instagram at @jasonwachob.
Colleen and Jason live in Miami with their daughters, Ellie and Grace. Their book, The Joy of Well-Being, is being released on May 23, 2023.