Colleges and schools around Seattle are back in session now, and as schedules become increasingly busy, getting enough sleep is critical. When our lives become hectic, compromising on sleep is what we tend to do, but it can have negative effects on our overall health and our daily lives. More than 50 million Americans have a sleep disorder or trouble sleeping that significantly affects their work, schooling or driving.
Sleep is a very important part of our overall health, affecting your mood, memory, stress level and weight. Getting enough sleep can significantly improve energy levels and reduce stress, but most people don’t realize how important sleep is to their health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to difficulties in concentration and memory issues. Symptoms may also include irritability, anxiety, agitation and decreased interest in activities. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or are feeling tired during the day, it may be time to look at your sleep schedule and ensure you’re getting a sufficient amount of sleep each night.
How much sleep you need varies by the individual. Most adults require 6–8 hours of sleep per night, and teens need 9–11 hours. If you wake up feeling refreshed, then you know you’re getting enough sleep. However, if you feel tired during the day, or experience other symptoms mentioned above, you may not be getting sufficient sleep. Here are a few tips I suggest to my patients who have trouble getting enough sleep.
Choose a bedtime and stick to it. Sleep is regulated by the body’s 24-hour biological clock—or circadian rhythm—which influences sleep-wake cycles. If the circadian rhythm is disrupted, it can leave you feeling lethargic and cause you to have trouble with concentration. This is why it’s important to keep a regular sleep schedule and allow enough time for quality sleep. That means going to sleep and waking up at about the same time each day.
Practice good sleep hygiene. In addition to developing a regular sleep schedule, try to avoid:
- Eating or exercising right before bedtime.
- Drinking caffeinated beverages in the late afternoon or evening.
- Daytime naps as much as possible.
- Using electronics within 90 minutes of bedtime.
Recent research from Harvard University shows that the blue light emitted by some electronics (cell phones, computers, tablets, TVs) boosts attention, reaction times and mood. While this may sound like a great side effect, it can be very disruptive to your sleep. Instead of using electronics before bedtime, try reading a book or magazine or listening to calming music. Restrict activities in bed to sleeping and intimacy only.
Eat right and exercise. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains and lean meats (which are easier on your digestive system than high-fat meats) make it easier for your body to relax and sleep. You can also improve sleep by exercising as little as 20 to 30 minutes daily. Try a brisk walk, riding your bike or even housework. Activities such as yoga or gentle stretching also promote good sleep and help relieve stress.
If you are sleeping enough and still feel unrefreshed, you may need an evaluation for sleep disorders, which could be disrupting your sleep. While over-the-counter sleep medication may seem to help for a few nights, it isn’t a long-term solution. If you show symptoms of poor sleep, talk with your doctor who can help you identify the problem and evaluate you for common sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea.