Sleep is a key part of physical and mental health. People experiencing sleep insufficiency are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as some form of cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity. In a recent study, people who had trouble getting enough sleep had trouble doing tasks involving memory and learning.
How much sleep do we need?
The quality of your sleep is also equally as important as the amount of sleep. Adults who habitually sleep less than 7 to 8 hours have an increased risk of developing obesity, diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease, stroke, and mood disorders. In a National Health Interview Survey, nearly 30% of adults reported an average of less than 6 hours of sleep per day, and only 31% of high school students reported getting at least 8 hours of sleep on an average school night. How much sleep we need generally changes with age.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends:
- School-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep daily.
- Teens need 9-10 hour
- Adults need 7-8 hours.
- Older adults need 7 – 9 hours of sleep.
Dealing with sleep-related problems
Insomnia is the most common sleep problem. The signs of insomnia are difficulty falling asleep, constant sleep disruptions, waking up early and not being able to fall back asleep, and feeling fatigue throughout the day. Most of us have experienced this temporarily “sleeplessness” at one time or another. In fact, 63% of women report experiencing insomnia at least a few nights a week.
Another common sleep disorder is sleep apnea in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. It may occur 30 times or more an hour. You should see your doctor if you suffer from these chronic sleep problems. A thorough evaluation can help determine the causes and identify solutions for you.
Healthy sleep habits
Your behavior throughout the day can greatly impact your sleep. By practicing healthy sleep habits, you can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
- Do not nap in the afternoon, as it may keep you up at night.
- Exercising can promote good sleep. But do not exercise within 3 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol close to bedtime.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime because it can disrupt your sleep.
- Do not “watch the clock”.
- Establish a “winding down” period. In the evenings, before bedtime, read a book, meditate or listen to music. Also, try to make a list of any worries along with a plan. This can bring closure to your day.
- Exercise caution with sleeping pills as some can be habit forming. They are usually a temporary solution to more long-term changes in behavior.
Optimal sleep environment
It is important that you create an optimal sleep environment in your bedroom. The bedroom should be a place for rest and relaxation. Your bed should only be used for sleep and sex. Do not balance your checkbook, talk on the phone or watch TV in your bedroom.
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and at the right temperature.
- The best sleep temperature for most people is between 68-72 degrees.
- Have a comfortable mattress, pillows and plenty of blankets.
- Eliminate dust and allergens by sleeping in clean bedding.
If problems still persist, speak with your doctor about medications or other underlying causes such as stress or depression.
Living Well Seminar: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Join Meredith Maxwell, M.D. for a discussion on sleep problems, insomnia, and disorders or medical conditions that may affect your sleep. Plus, learn tips on how to improve your sleep and to sleep safely.
Tuesday, August 8
12 to 1pm
Foucher Room, 2nd Floor
1401 Foucher St. New Orleans, LA 70115
Meredith Maxwell, M.D., M.H.A., attended the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, where she completed her family medicine residency, before joining the Touro Infirmary Health System. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine Diplomate. Dr. Maxwell chose family medicine because she gets to see patients of all ages and the whole family.