“I'll sleep when I'm dead.”
- Warren Zevon
Everyone is looking for ways to improve their life. We try to improve our diets: the latest diet fads, increasing protein/decreasing carbohydrates, eating organic, etc. We add exercise to our routines; walking, running, swimming, hiking, bicycling, dancing, etc. We go to nutritionists, we hire personal trainers, we buy diet/cookbooks, and we joined gyms. We spend time, money, and energy trying to enhance the quality of our lives. However, one of the most overlooked, yet vital, component is the quality of our sleep. Unfortunately, living by the motto “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is likely to actually hasten our demise! Increasingly, science is reporting the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has declared insufficient sleep as a public health issue. Problems that are associated with inadequate sleep include memory problems, depression, anxiety, irritability, motor vehicle accidents, weight gain, premature aging, diabetes, cardiac problems, sexual problems, slower metabolisms, muscle atrophy, chronic skin conditions, chronic pain, substance abuse, etc. So if you want to feel better, think better, look better, and move better, get to sleep!
But how much sleep do I need?
While the amount of adequate sleep varies by individual, the general guidelines are:
Newborns (0–3 months): 14–17 hours
Infants (4–12 months): 12–16 hours (including naps)
Toddlers (1–2 years): 11–14 hours (including naps)
Preschool Children (3–5 years): 10–13 hours (including naps),
School Age Children (6–12 years): 9–12 hours,
Teenagers (13–18 years): 8–10 hours
Adults: (18–60 years): 7 or more hours,
(61–64 years): 7–9 hours,
(65 years and older): 7–8 hours
To determine just how much sleep you need, ask yourself “Am I waking up refreshed most of the time?” If the answer is “no,” you probably need to get more sleep. Sometimes making small changes can help us with our sleep. If you are having occasional difficulty with sleep, try some, or all, of these strategies:
1. Go to bed! Often the time a person goes to bed becomes a matter of habit rather than of need. You don’t need to stay up to watch your favorite program, record it to watch another day.
2. Keep your bedroom dark. Use blackout curtains or eye shades if needed. Darkness signals our bodies that it is time to sleep.
3. Do not use electronic devices for 60 minutes before you settle in for sleep. Today’s electronic devices emit blue light which mimics daylight, interfering with the sleep/wake cycle by suppressing melatonin—the hormone that helps to fall and stay asleep. No electronic devices in the bedroom—including television!
4. Do not watch or participate in intellectually or emotionally stimulating activities before sleep. Watching an action film, reading social media, listening to energetic music, or watching the news, even a couple of hours before bedtime, can disrupt you ability to fall asleep.
5. Exercise earlier in the day. Even as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise has been found to help improve sleep quality but strenuous exercise in the evening can interfere with restful sleep for some people.
6. Establish a sleep routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday, even on the weekends.
7. Keep your bedroom cool, about 60-67 degrees or the minimum in which you are comfortable sleeping.
8. Take a warm (not hot) bath about 30 minutes before you go to bed. The act of your body cooling down after a warm bath mimics the body's natural process of inducing sleep. Avoid taking a warm shower, for many people showering is too stimulating before bed.
9. Do not use stimulants like nicotine or caffeine in the evenings. While some people can drink a pot of regular coffee before bed and sleep like a baby, most people are not that fortunate. Many people are extremely sensitive to caffeine. Common hidden sources of caffeine are: decaf coffee (decaf does not mean caffeine free, the FDA allows coffee beans with as much as 3% caffeine to be marketed as “decaffeinated”), chocolate (but not white chocolate which does not contain cocoa powder but does have sugar which can be stimulating), anything mocha or java flavored such as ice cream, cola soda, some non-cola sodas, some medications, or most items labeled as “energy boosting.” When in doubt, read the labels.
10. Keep your bedroom quiet. For some people soothing sounds like white noice or the sound of rain/water/waves crashing, etc. can be soothing.
11. Avoid rich, fatty, heavy, fried, or spicy foods can cause indigestion which will interfere with sleep.
12. Limit any daytime naps to no longer than 30 minutes.
13. Make your bedroom as comfortable and inviting as possible with a soothing decor, comfortable mattress, humidifiers, fans, and a comfortable pillow.
14. If you are unable to fall asleep after 30 to 40 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing such as listening to soothing music, meditate, or read a boring book. You don't want to stay in bed because you want your body to associate your bed with sleeping, not with tossing and turning. Remember, you should expect to take 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you fall asleep the minute your head hits the pillow, you're not sleeping enough and you're over tired.
For the majority of people, some or all of the suggestions above will be all that is needed to gain a restful night’s sleep. However, for others, their sleep problems run deeper, often the result of a sleep disorder. Many people don't realize that they have a sleep disorder.