The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important factors for our overall health. It plays a vital role in supporting the immune system, boosting brain function, healing cells and tissues in the body, regulating hormones and improving our mood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of American adults are not getting enough sleep regularly. Poor sleep hygiene can lead to an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and frequent mental distress. Discover what you can do to improve your sleep and general wellbeing.

How much sleep do you need changes as you age?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the CDC recommend the following general sleep guidelines for different age groups:

  • Birth to 3 months: 14 to 17 hours
  • 4 to 11 months: 12 to 16 hours
  • 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours
  • 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours
  • 6 to 12 years: nine to 12 hours
  • 13 to 18 years: eight to 10 hours
  • 18 to 64 years: seven to nine hours
  • 65 years and older: seven to eight hours

As we age, many of us believe that we need fewer hours of sleep to feel well-rested and often accept this as part of the aging process. In reality, the optimal amount of sleep for the majority of adults is seven to nine hours but varies depending on the individual.

The quality of your sleep is also an important part of your overall sleep hygiene. Not feeling rested even after having a full night’s sleep is a sign of poor sleep quality, as are symptoms of sleep disorders such as snoring or waking up repeatedly in the middle of the night. Improve your sleep quality by developing better habits or having any sleep disorders diagnosed and treated.

Consider the following tips to improve the quality of your sleep:

During the day

  • Increase your light exposure and try to get 10-30 minutes of sunlight a day. Increased exposure to bright light during the day, preferably first thing in the morning, promotes a balanced circadian rhythm which affects your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Stick to a regular sleep and wake schedule, even on the weekends.
  • Avoid naps in the late afternoon and evening, as well as naps that last more than 30 minutes.
  • Exercise regularly but try to schedule your workouts at least three hours before you go to sleep.
  • Avoid consuming caffeinated beverages past lunchtime.

Before bed

  • Avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. While it may cause initial drowsiness, it reduces sleep quality by shortening the amount of time spent in the most restorative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage of sleep.
  • Avoid eating large meals and limit excessive fluid intake close to bedtime.
  • Turn off the electronics (TV, computer, phone and etc.) at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Develop a relaxing evening routine like reading a book, listening to relaxing music, taking a warm bath/shower or meditating.
  • Make your bedroom sleep-friendly by dimming the lights before bed, setting the thermostat in your bedroom to your preferred sleeping temperature and make sure you have a comfortable and well-supported bedding set.

When to see your primary care provider?

If you find that you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, consider talking to your primary care provider. There may be possible medical conditions that can be contributing to poor sleep hygiene and options for better sleep.