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2020 Health Challenge Month 8: Get the Quality Sleep You Need

August 19, 2020

Are you getting enough sleep at night? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 1 in 3 American adults do not get healthy amounts of sleep. There is a big difference between the amount of sleep you can get by with, and the amount you need to function optimally. The NIH recommends 7-8 hours of sleep each night but the average adult sleeps less than seven. Even minimal sleep loss can take a toll on mood, energy, mental sharpness and ability to handle stress. Over the long-term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on mental and physical health.

While you might not be able to control the factors that interfere with your sleep, here are some habits that can help you get those ZZZs.

Consistent sleep schedule 

Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for sleeping better. A regular sleep schedule helps ensure better quality and consistent sleep while reinforcing your body’s sleep-wake cycle. 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. Try to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour. 

Food and drink

Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. Avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Eating lots of sugar and refined carbs during the day can trigger wakefulness at night. Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine take hours to wear off and can wreak havoc on quality sleep. Avoid caffeine for four to six hours before bedtime. Smokers should refrain from using tobacco close to bedtime. Alcohol might make you feel sleepy, but it can disrupt sleep, so limit alcohol consumption and avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime.

Sleep-Inducing Environment

A quiet, dark and cool environment can help promote sound sleep. Keep the temperature between 60 and 75°F. Make sure your bed is comfortable. Consider using room-darkening shades or an eye mask to block light and earplugs, a fan or a “white noise” machine or app to block out noises. Avoid bright screens within 1-2 hours of bedtime; the blue light emitted by cell phones, tablets, computers or TVs is disruptive. Not only does the light from a TV suppress melatonin, many programs are stimulating rather than relaxing.

Nap or not

Many people make naps a regular part of their day. Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep and late-day naps decrease sleep drive. If you choose to nap, limit it to 30 minutes and before 5 pm.

Daily physical activity 

Regular physical activity can promote better sleep at night and help you feel less sleepy during the day and can improve the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea. The more vigorously you exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits. But even light exercise, such as walking just 10 minutes a day, improves sleep quality. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed. It can take several months of regular activity before you experience the full sleep-promoting effects.

Don’t watch the clock

Staring at a clock while trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night can increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in 20 minutes try not to stress over it, because it encourages you to stay awake. Focus on the feelings in your body, practice breathing exercises or meditate. 

Teens and Sleep

The average teen needs about 9 hours of sleep nightly. Those who don’t get enough may feel sad, depressed or angry, be impulsive, have mood swings or lack motivation. They may have problems paying attention and feel stressed. Some tips for teens are:

  • Avoiding screen time an hour before bed
  • Banning all-night homework sessions 
  • Writing in a diary or on a to-do list just before sleep
  • Sleeping no more than 2 hours later on weekends 

The good news is that you don’t have to choose between health and productivity. By addressing any sleep problems and making time to get the sleep you need each night, your energy, efficiency and overall health will improve. 

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night, but if you often have trouble sleeping, contact your doctor to help identify and treat any underlying causes so you can get the sleep you deserve. Need a provider? Find one here.