Sleep: Why We Need It and How to Get It

Posted by Russell Dumas, BSN, RN

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Jul 13, 2016 9:06:18 AM

If you let those poor sleep patterns go for too long, you could increase your risk for serious health problems.

When you think of what makes a person healthy, the first things that come to mind are probably a healthy diet and exercise. But did you know that getting enough sleep is also critical to your health and well-being?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of U.S. adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more and 40 percent experience daytime sleepiness that is severe enough to affect their daily activities at least a few days per month.

Not getting enough sleep can lead to you feeling sluggish and unproductive all day. It may affect your mood, causing you to be grumpy at work or home, or create tension in your relationships. And it can cause fatigue and grogginess that could make you more prone to mistakes, accidents, or injury.

If you let those poor sleep patterns go for too long and become chronic, you could increase your risk for serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

Sleep and Your Body

One of the reasons sleep is so important is because you restore your body’s functions during this time. Adequate sleep positively affects the endocrine, metabolic, and neurological functions of the body. It also helps to fight off infection, support metabolism, balance blood sugar levels, keep your mind sharp, and promote healing.

Talk to your doctor about any sleep issues you've been having.

If you have problems with sleep that recur or persist for more than a few weeks, or if you think you may have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor. Left untreated, sleep disorders can affect your physical and mental well-being. This could lead to a decrease in your quality of life or an increase in physical or functional limitations, which could contribute to your loss of independence.

 

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

While everyone may experience different sleep needs, it is recommended that adults get eight hours of sleep per night. Some people can function just fine with about six hours of sleep, while others need about ten hours to perform at their best.

Contrary to popular belief, the need for sleep doesn’t decline with age, but the ability to sleep for six to eight hours straight may be reduced. Even if you’re retired, try to stick to a sleep schedule and get adequate rest.

How to Sleep Better

If you have trouble sleeping, consider some of these tips to help you sleep better.

1. Tell Your Body It’s Time To Sleep

One way to do this is by making a habit out of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. By staying consistent, you establish a sleep schedule and train your body to stick to it. You can also try doing some relaxing activities before bed each night. Take a warm bath or shower, listen to soothing music, sip some hot herbal tea, or even read a book. Associating these activities with bedtime will turn them into triggers that tell your body it’s time to wind down and get some rest. Avoid watching TV or surfing the internet as a trigger; the light from the screens could interfere with your sleep.

Drinking herbal tea can be relaxing, but be careful not to drink anything containing caffeine too close to bedtime.

2. Watch What You Eat and Drink Before Bedtime

Avoid going to bed feeling full or hungry. These behaviors can cause physical discomfort that keeps you from falling asleep peacefully. Try to limit your beverage intake as well. If it’s not easy for you to fall asleep after a trip to the bathroom, it will be better if you can empty your bladder before you go to sleep, so you don’t wake up any sooner than necessary. Also, try to avoid caffeine and alcohol. These can take hours to burn off, which can affect your ability to fall asleep.

3. Avoid Sleeping During the Day

As tempting as they may be, naps during the day can keep you from falling asleep at night. If you must nap, keep it short (no more than 30 minutes) and don’t make it a habit. If necessary, set an alarm for your daytime nap.

4. Create a Comfortable Setting

Make yourself as comfortable as possible to promote sleep. A cool room, crisp sheets, comfortable pajamas, the steady hum of a fan, soothing sounds from a sound machine by the bed, the right lighting or no lighting. Find what relaxes you and allows you to wind down. Having a good pillow and mattress is important, too. If you find that you toss and turn and wake up feeling achy, this may be a sign that it is time to replace them.

5. Get Your Body Moving

Remember when your kids were young and a day of play made them sleep like babies? Being active during the day can make it easier for you to sleep at night, too. If you plan to exercise though, make sure you avoid doing so too close to bedtime. You don’t want to get so energized that you can’t fall asleep.

Routines and habits can put a mind to ease, and a mind at ease achieves better rest.

6. Let Go

If your mind is racing and worrying about all the different things going on in your life, or if you’re simply too stressed, you may be unable to fall asleep. Consider different ways to manage your thoughts and stress so your sleep isn’t affected. Some possible options include writing down your thoughts and putting them aside to work on or give attention to the following day. Sometimes the simple act of writing ideas, tasks, or worries down will help take them off your mind. Take long, deep, relaxing breaths and shift your focus to the act of breathing and relaxing. You can always try different meditation techniques to find something that helps you slow your mind down. Once you know what works for you, make it part of your nightly routine.

Know Your Body and Know Better Sleep

While we all might suffer from the occasional restless night, it is important to listen to your body. If you find yourself nodding off during activities, if drowsiness is making you irritable or making it hard to complete tasks, or if anything seems unusual or your sleeping patterns change, check with your doctor. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve.

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