Sleep is vital to good health, no matter the age, according to Raj Dasgupta, spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). “People spend one-third of their lives sleeping. If you live to age 90, that’s 30 years of sleep.”
The AASM recommends at least 7 hours of sleep for adults. However, just being in bed doesn’t mean your sleep is effective in helping your organs, brain and body rejuvenate.
“As physicians, we measure the effectiveness of sleep by quantity and quality,” says Dr. Dasgupta. “If you’re not getting the right amount of sleep to meet your needs and your quality of sleep is poor, your mind and body are not going to the deeper stages of REM sleep and you are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity.”
Dasgupta says society has conditioned people to prioritize productivity above sleep.
“Phrases like, ‘The early bird gets the worm,’ or ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,’ have been around long enough that people accept them as fact,” he says. “However, we are finding more and more people are getting less sleep in their quests to be more productive or force more activity into the day.”
While it is recommended that adults should sleep at least 7 hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimum health, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered more than 70 million U.S. adults reported sleeping 6 hours or less.
“The percentage of Americans sleeping 6 hours or less has in-creased more than 30 percent since 1985,” he says. “Some people have various sleep-wake disorders such as chronic insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, and many of these conditions go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.”
Dasgupta says people consistently having difficulty initiating sleep, maintaining sleep or feeling unrefreshed despite having adequate time to sleep should talk with their physician. Keeping a log or journal of sleep and daytime symptoms can assist with identifying causes.
“Sleep boosts the immune system, so don’t ignore persistent sleep problems,” says Dasgupta. “Talk to your medical provider if you’re struggling to sleep on a regular basis.”
If you’re having difficulty with daytime fatigue, concentration and memory, there could be many causes.
“One of the first things physicians look for is a diminished quantity of sleep,” he says. “If that’s the case, we recommend establishing a regular bedtime routine and practicing good sleep hygiene.”
Setting and sticking to a regular bedtime routine, including managing noise, light levels and temperature of your bedroom, can help improve sleep.
“Be mindful of your activities a couple of hours before bedtime,” he says. Eating a large meal less than 2 hours before bed, using a computer or smartphone within 30 minutes of bedtime, or using the television to help you fall asleep can reduce the effectiveness of sleep.
He suggests setting regular bedtime hours, including weekends, holidays and vacations. Set the alarm, and don’t hit the snooze button. Get out of bed when the alarm goes off and get outside, especially if the weather is good.
“Many individuals report their sleep needs are not being met during the week. While you may try to make up for that lack of sleep on days off and weekends, this is not a sustainable strategy to make up for that sleep debt,” Dasgupta says. “Healthy sleep is as important as proper nutrition and regular exercise for our health and well-being. Since most of us sleep about 30 percent of our lives, prioritize these sleeping hours to maximize all the benefits.”