March 08, 2019

In many ways, healthy sleep is the anchor for a healthy life. Yet so many of us take sleep for granted, or just assume we can “get by” with limited sleep. We spend up to one-third of our lives asleep, and for good reason. Our bodies are busy making vital repairs and improvements while we sleep. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night, but the average American adult gets slightly less than 7 hrs per night. About 20% of American adults report that they get less than 6 hours of sleep on average. Our Caring Starts with You data indicate that 18.5% of participants sleep the recommended 7-8 hours a night, and nearly 10% say they seldom or never sleep enough.

During the early part of the night, more time is spent in deep sleep. As the night progresses we spend more time in REM sleep. REM sleep is particularly important to prepare the mind for peak daytime performance. Missing out on REM sleep that comes near morning can have serious consequences for thinking, memory and general daytime performance.

The benefits of getting the recommended amount of sleep include:

  • Healing damaged cells
  • Boosting your immune system
  • Recovering from the day’s activities
  • Recharging your heart and cardiovascular system for the next day

Sleeping less than the recommend 7-8 hours per night for adults is also linked to increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and poor mental health, as well as early death. It can also affect your ability to make good decisions and increases the chances of motor vehicle crashes.

Tips for good sleep hygiene:

  • First, establish a routine. Go to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day. This allows your body to maintain normal circadian rhythms that promote sound sleep.
  • Wind down for at least an hour before bed with soothing or calming activities like meditation or a warm shower. Avoid TV, computer and cell phone use right before bed – the blue light emitted by the screens suppresses melatonin secretion, and this interferes with falling asleep.
  • Get plenty of light exposure during the day, especially in late afternoon. Plenty of light during the day suppresses melatonin, supporting alertness. Conversely, dim lights in the evening promote melatonin secretion to induce sleepiness.
  • If you nap, limit to 20-30 minutes.
  • Avoid eating meals right before bedtime as this can interfere with sleep. Similarly, avoid caffeine 6-8 hours before bedtime, and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Get regular physical activity every day to promote sleep, but do not exercise vigorously just before bed. 

Many Americans have problems with insomnia. Insomnia can take a number of different forms, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, waking up too early in the morning, or not getting the amount of quality of sleep needed.

If you find yourself routinely not feeling tired at bedtime, try a few lifestyle changes:

  • Adopt a relaxing ritual like yoga or taking a warm shower.
  • Increase early morning sunlight and avoid light from screens during the evening.
  • Increase afternoon physical activity especially outdoors.
  • Shift carbohydrate consumption from evening to breakfast.

If you’re waking up in the middle of the night, or waking too early:

  • Increase your exposure to afternoon sunlight and physical activity, and assure good hydration.
  • Avoid evening diuretic beverages such as alcohol or caffeinated drinks.
  • Resist the urge to grab your smartphone or tablet and do not turn on the lights – light exposure suppresses melatonin and tells your body it’s time to wake up. Do not eat food, as the resulting cortisol spike can interfere with returning to sleep. Avoid bright light and food until at least 30-60 minutes after your ideal wake up time to support normal circadian rhythms.
  • Try relaxation techniques to lull yourself back to a state of calm. But, if, after twenty minutes, you still can’t fall back to sleep, get out of bed for a bit to read a book or magazine or listen to some soothing music.

If you’re concerned about your sleep, be sure to talk to your health care provider for ways to increase your overall sleep health.

For more information visit www.slhn.org or call 1-866-STLUKES for a physician referral.