By Lynn Okura
In a perfect world, we’d all go to bed at a reasonable hour, wake up after a restorative 8 hours, and hit the gym for an early morning workout. But when that 5 a.m alarm starts buzzing and your body is begging you to go back to bed, what’s more important: an hour at the gym or an extra hour of sleep?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, starring in the new series “Surgeon Oz” on OWN, says there is a definitive answer. “I feel pretty passionately about this. If you have the choice between an extra hour of sleep or an extra hour of working out, you sleep,” he says.
Although exercise has enormous value, Dr. Oz explains in the above #OWNSHOW video why sleep trumps all. “The single most under-appreciated health problem in America is sleep,” he says. “As an example, people who don’t sleep gain weight. People who don’t sleep have immune problems and a whole slew of other problems. Why deal with that?”
If falling asleep is a challenge for you, Dr. Oz says it’s important to understand sleep hygiene. “Sleep hygiene is the magical way that your body prepares itself for sleep,” he explains. “Think about it: when our ancestors went to bed, they’d see the sun begin to set. As the rays of the sun got longer, it sent a message to the pineal gland – that’s a gland way deep in our mind that secretes melatonin.”
Since watching the sun set is usually a luxury reserved for vacation, Dr. Oz has advice on how to mimic this process at home. Start by dimming the lights in your room before you go to bed, he says. As an extra step, you can try an orange light bulb or one of the new special LED light bulbs that are meant to aid in sleeping. “Or, frankly, just telling a bedtime story to your kids, you’ll start to get sleepy,” he says.
As far as how many hours of sleep we need each night, Dr. Oz says it’s cut and dry. “95 percent of people need somewhere between 7 and 8 hours,” he says. On average, women need 7 to 7.5 hours, while men – who are needier, Dr. Oz jokes – need 7.5 to 8.
More, however, isn’t necessarily better. “If you sleep more than 9 hours it’s actually a problem,” Dr. Oz warns. “Most people who sleep more than 9 hours have other medical issues going on.”
Think you’re one of those lucky few who can get away with less than 7 hours? “Very few people can without paying the price,” Dr. Oz says. “You can force yourself to do it. You can muscle through – but you’re going to not be quite as smart as you would have been, not as creative as you would have been.”
Thinking you don’t have time for sleep is counterproductive, he explains. “My request to everyone who can hear my voice right now is, I want you to work smart — don’t just work hard,” Dr. Oz says. “If you’re going to be able to carve out an extra hour of sleep a night, you’ll work much smarter -– so you won’t have to work the extra hour.”