Sleep. We all do it. We all know it is important. The average human spends about 230,000 hours over their lifetime sleeping, so why are many of us so bad at it? Best estimates show that, at any given time in the United States, about 40% of adults report not getting enough sleep(1). Infants need about 15 hours of sleep per day and the number of hours needed gradually decreases until adulthood, with experts recommending seven to eight hours per night(1). Getting the right amount of hours of quality sleep can provide a plethora of health benefits. Research has consistently shown that people who get enough sleep and feel restful are more likely to get sick less often, stay at a healthier weight, lower their risk for serious health problems (like heart disease), use alcohol at lower rates, feel less stressed, have better interpersonal relationships, are less likely to smoke cigarettes or use narcotics, perform better at school and work, and avoid injuries (like auto accidents)(1). Experts have also identified factors that can contribute to difficulty falling or staying asleep, such as stress, anxiety, pain, caffeine use (usually from coffee, tea, and soda), alcohol use, narcotics use, health conditions (like heartburn or asthma), and some medications(1). Additionally, there is the possibility of an undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder, like sleep apnea or insomnia(1). In addition to having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, a sleep disorder could cause you to still feel tired after a good night’s sleep, feel sleepy during the day, or have a difficult time doing everyday activities (like driving a car), as well as possibly experiencing frequent loud snoring, pauses in breathing or gasping while sleeping, itchy feelings in legs or arms at night that feel better when you move or massage the area, and trouble moving your arms and legs when you wake up(1). If you feel like you may have a sleep disorder, please talk with your doctor about your concerns and if a medical sleep study may be beneficial for you.
Clearly getting enough quality sleep is important, so how do we learn to sleep better? Luckily, there are numerous suggestions by sleep experts that can help you have better sleep habits. First, make your bedroom a sleep-inducing environment by creating a quiet, dark, and cool environment equipped with a comfortable mattress(2). You can achieve this by using earplugs or a “white noise machine, using blackout shades/curtains or an eye mask, and a fan to keep your space well-ventilated and ideally between 60 and 75 degrees(2). Next, establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine and stick with that routine each day(2). About one before bed, take a bath, read a book, watch television, or practice relaxation exercises but make sure to avoid stressful, stimulating activities (such as doing work or discussing emotional issues), as this can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness(2). Another recommendation is to go to sleep when you are tired; if you are not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep(2). One other suggestion is to keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekends and during holidays; specifically, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time night after night(2). Finally, it is recommended that you avoid naps during the day, limit the amount of food and beverage consumed in the evening, and exercise earlier in the day(2). Hopefully, some of these tips can help you get better sleep each night and feel fully rested each day. Sweet dreams!
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