If you find yourself experiencing daytime fatigue or you’re constantly waking up tired, you may be wondering if you’re getting enough sleep. Many of us don’t get enough sleep. In fact, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 1 in 4 adults aged 18-34, 1 in 3 adults aged 35-64, and 1 in 4 adults aged 65-79 get less sleep per night than is recommended.

Here, we’ll discuss how to tell if you’re getting enough sleep and what you can do to address the problem if you’re not.

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is essential to your overall health and wellbeing. Getting enough good sleep gives your body and mind the opportunity to rest and heal.

While you're asleep, your brain forms new pathways to help you learn and memorize information — sleep also helps enhance your cognitive skills. It plays a key role in your physical health and is involved in the repair of your heart and blood vessels.

Sleep also promotes healthy growth. Deep sleep causes your body to release the hormone that encourages growth in children and teens. This hormone also increases muscle mass and aids in the healing of cells and tissues. Sleep is also critical to maintaining healthy function in your immune system.

Your body produces hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin): sleep helps regulate the production of these hormones. It also affects how your body reacts to insulin — sleep deficiency can lead to higher than normal blood sugar levels, which could put you at increased risk for diabetes.

Getting enough quality sleep allows you to perform well throughout the day — after several nights of losing just a couple of hours of sleep per night, your ability to function suffers as though you haven't had any sleep at all for a day or two.

Signs you are not getting enough sleep

If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Feeling irritable or tired during the day
  • Struggling to concentrate or remember things
  • Finding it hard to wake up in the morning
  • Feeling sleepy in the afternoon
  • Having difficulty staying awake during meetings or lectures, or when in a warm room
  • Having to nap during the day
  • Falling asleep on the sofa at night
  • Drifting off within five minutes of going to bed
  • Having to sleep late at the weekend
  • Negative mood changes

Not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to both your physical and mental wellbeing.

How to know if you are getting enough sleep

If you wake up on time without having to use an alarm, this is a good indication that you’re getting enough sleep. Being able to skip your morning cup of coffee before going about your day is also a sign that you’re sleeping enough. 

Because of sleep’s function in controlling the production of hormones that regulate appetite, those who are getting enough sleep are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. You can also tell whether you’re getting enough sleep from your mood — if you’re sleep deficient, you’re more likely to experience negative mood changes.

If you suspect you might not be getting enough sleep, try keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks. Record the time you go to bed and the time you wake up each night and day, and make a note of how rested you feel each morning. If you experience daytime sleepiness, log this in your sleep diary too.

After a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to compare your sleep data to the guidelines for nightly sleep for your age range to determine whether or not you’re sleeping enough. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for those aged 18 to 64 and seven to eight hours of sleep per night for those over the age of 65.

Effects of sleep deprivation

Sleep deficiency affects activity in some parts of the brain — if you're not getting enough sleep, you may struggle to make decisions, solve problems, and control your emotions and behavior.

Sleep deficiency can also hinder your ability to learn, focus, and react. If you’re sleep deficient, you may take longer to finish tasks, react slower than usual, and make more mistakes.

Over time, sleep deficiency can result in an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Those who aren’t getting enough sleep are also at higher risk of obesity due to sleep’s role in moderating appetite.

How to get the sleep you need

There are a number of steps you can take to get more high-quality sleep. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule — going to bed and waking at the same time each night and day — can help you ensure you’re getting enough sleep.

Limit daytime napping so you’re ready to drift off by bedtime and try to avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine at night. Make your sleeping environment as restful and as comfortable as possible to give your body everything it needs to relax into sleep. For more tips on improving your sleep, please see the following resources:

Sleep deficiency can have a negative impact on your health, both in the short-term and in the long-term. If sleep deficiency is interfering with your day-to-day life and you’re struggling to get enough sleep, consult with your doctor for further guidance.