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What You Need to Know About Sleep: One of Life's Necessities

Without adequate sleep, mental and physical health can suffer.

There are more than 100 million Americans of all ages who are not getting adequate sleep. Inadequate sleep can have untoward consequences on school and work performance, interpersonal relationships, health, and safety.

How much sleep is necessary?

Experts generally recommend that adults sleep at least 7½ to 8 hours per night, although some people require more and some less.

A recent National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America poll found that adults (age 18-54) sleep an average of 6.4 hours per night on weekdays and 7.7 hours on weekends. The poll showed a downward trend in sleep time over the past several years. People sleeping less often use the internet at night or bring work home from the office. Sleep loss can lead to daytime sleepiness that adversely affects performance.

The National Sleep Foundation also reported that older adults (age 55-84) average 7 hours of sleep on weekdays and 7.1 hours on weekends. Sleep is most often disturbed by the need to use the bathroom and physical pain or discomfort in older adults.

A downward trend in sleep time has also been observed in children. Optimal sleep time varies by age. An earlier Sleep in America poll found a discrepancy between recommended and actual sleep time in children, with actual sleep time 1.5 to 2 hours less than recommended. Caffeine consumption caused a loss of 3 to 5 hours of sleep and having a television in the bedroom contributed to a loss of 2 hours of sleep each week in children.

What happens when a person does not get enough sleep?

Not getting the proper amount or quality of sleep leads to more than just feeling tired. Sleepiness interferes with cognitive function, which can lead to learning disabilities in children, memory impairment in people of all ages, personality changes, and depression.

People suffering from sleep deprivation experience difficulty making decisions, irritability, problems with performance, and slower reaction times, placing them at risk for automobile and work-related accidents. Sleep loss can also adversely affect life by contributing to the development of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep or if you feel sleepy or unrefreshed despite a seemingly adequate night of sleep, you may have a sleep disorder. There are over 80 disorders of sleep and wakefulness.

What are some tips for getting a good night's sleep?

  • Create an optimal sleep environment by making sure that your bedroom is comfortable, cool, quiet, and dark. If noise keeps you awake, try using background sounds like "white noise" or earplugs. If light interferes with your sleep, try a sleep mask or blackout curtains.
  • Think positive. Avoid going to bed with a negative mind set, such as "If I don't get enough sleep tonight, how will I ever get through the day tomorrow?"
  • Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep and intimate relations. Do not watch television, eat, work, or use computers in your bedroom.
  • Try to clear your mind before bed time by writing things down or making a to-do list earlier in the evening. This is helpful if you tend to worry and think too much in bed at night.
  • Establish a regular bedtime and a relaxing routine each night by taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, or reading. Try relaxation exercises, meditation, biofeedback or hypnosis. Wake up at the same time each morning, including days off and vacations.
  • Stop clock watching. Turn the clock around and use only the alarm for waking up. Leave your bedroom if you can not fall asleep in 20 minutes. Read or engage in a relaxing activity in another room.
  • Avoid naps. If you are extremely sleepy, take a nap. But limit naps to less than 30 minutes and no later than 3 pm.
  • Avoid stimulants (coffee, teas, cola, cocoa and chocolate) and heavy meals for at least 4 hours before bedtime. Light carbohydrate snacks such as milk, yogurt, or crackers may help you fall asleep easier.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco for at least 4 hours before bedtime and during the night.
  • Exercise regularly, but not within 4 hours of bedtime if you have trouble sleeping.

References

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/10/2010...#13268