Sleep: It's What the Doctor Ordered
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” - Ernest Hemingway
Sleep – it’s something we all do, but in this time of rapidly advancing medical knowledge, it is still very much a mystery. One thing for certain though, is how important it is to get an adequate amount each night and that those who don’t do so at their peril. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults 18 to 60 years old get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Adults 65 and older should get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Children under 18 need much more sleep than adults and this varies by age.
Though people have known the necessity of sleep throughout time, we are finding more and more benefits of sleep as science continues to try to shine more light on this enigmatic phenomena. Adequate sleep has been shown to have a wide variety of psychological benefits – such as improving retention when learning new knowledge. Sleep has also been shown to increase one’s attention span and allow for more alertness while awake. As many people already know, sufficient sleep also helps a great deal with problem solving and decision making. Lastly, sleep is absolutely key in maintaining a good and stable mood.
The benefits with sleep do not stop only at the mind – sleep is also essential for maintaining a healthy body. Studies have shown that sleep is necessary for the body to heal itself and maintain its working order. Continual sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Sleep also has a large role in hunger vs satiety. It has been shown that people are hungrier and have a difficult time keeping a healthy weight with inadequate amounts of sleep, often leading to obesity. And, as any parent will tell you, sleep is especially important with the growth, development and wellbeing of children.
So, what if you suspect you are not getting enough sleep? Ultimately you may need to speak to your physician, but there are some easy things you can try first. Limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption throughout the day is very important in helping to facilitate healthy sleep – but limiting these two substances is especially important in the hours just before going to bed.
It is also crucial to try to maintain a similar sleep time and wake time every day of the week – even on weekends. This allows your body to fall into a rhythm where you will start to become tired shortly before the usual time you go to bed. Avoiding naps during the daytime and following an exercise regimen are also significant ways to make sure you are actually feeling tired when it comes time to go to bed. And, in this age of ever increasing bright electric screens, it is often very helpful to avoid electronics 30 minutes or more before going to bed. Yes, this includes your cell phone.
Now, if you’ve tried these strategies and still don’t think you are getting enough shut-eye, it’s probably time for you to see your physician. Often times bringing a sleep diary will assist your doctor with the diagnosis, so keeping track of the following things every day may help: The time you go to bed and when you fall asleep, number of times you awaken at night, number of times you get out of bed (such as to go to the bathroom), the time that you get up and if you take naps during the day.