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Why Sleep is So Critical to Good Health

March 03, 2022
When you sleep, your mind and body are hard at work on your overall health. For example, certain stages of sleep allow us to learn and remember. Sleep also helps us fight infection and prevent heart problems and diabetes.
If you’re dealing with a conflict or change, sleep can help you control your emotions. Having enough sleep helps lower stress, improve your mood, and keep your weight healthy.
Over time, lack of sleep can hurt your health and relationships and cause accidents behind the wheel or on the job. The good news is you can learn new habits to improve your sleep.
How much sleep do you need?
Individual sleep needs vary, so observe how you feel during the day. If you find it hard to do simple activities or stay alert, you may need more sleep.
Here are basic guidelines for different age groups:
  • Infants and children: Newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day. As they grow older, they need less sleep.
  • Adults: By age 20, sleep needs range from 7 to 9 hours each night.
  • Older adults: People 65 and older need about 7 to 8 hours each night.
Sleep loss is often a result of bad sleep habits, illness, or sleep disturbances. It’s also possible your bedroom might be too bright, too warm, or too noisy, making it hard for you to sleep.
The start of Daylight Saving Time this month can also throw off sleep cycles. One study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that the average person receives 40 minutes less sleep on the Monday after “Springing Forward” compared to other nights of the year.
Here are tips to help you sleep better:
Be consistent with your sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and rise at the same time every morning, including weekends. Don’t nap after 3 p.m. or longer than an hour. Gradually alter your sleep time a few days before Daylight Saving Time starts by waking up 15-20 minutes earlier to make the transition easier.
Exercise early. Give your body at least two hours to relax before bedtime.
Skip or limit the following:
  • Caffeine and nicotine. They stimulate the body and can take up to eight hours to wear off.
  • Alcohol. A drink may make you feel sleepy, but it prevents deep sleep.
  • Large meals and drinks at night. Too much food can cause indigestion and prevent sleep. More drinks also mean more trips to the restroom.
Talk to your doctor about certain medicines. Certain heart, blood pressure, asthma, and cold medicines can delay or disrupt sleep, so ask your doctor about your options.
Relax before bedtime. Try listening to music, reading, or taking a bath.
Go outside during the day. At least 30 minutes of natural sunlight a day can help you sleep better at night.
Do something if you can’t fall asleep. After 20 minutes, do something relaxing, like reading a book, until you feel tired. Stay away from smartphones and tablets, which emit blue light and can keep you awake.
Consult your doctor. Even with good sleep habits, it may still be a struggle to have enough quality rest. Your doctor can recommend solutions or arrange for a sleep study to find out if you have a sleep disorder.
Something as simple as sleep can really make a huge difference in your health.