When it comes to knowing the actions we can take to stay healthy, most of us know what to do: eat healthy, engage in physical activities, take medicines as prescribed, and reduce stress.
Often left out of the list is the importance of sleep health, which is probably one of the primary reasons that 1 out of 3 people have problems with their sleep.
Each person’s body works on a 24-hour cycle where sleep is a crucial component. Have you ever noticed how hard it is for everyone in a household to be on the same sleep schedule? Besides having different needs and responsibilities, there is great variability in the recommended amount of sleep by age. NHLBI points out the recommendations for quantity of sleep from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics: newborn to 12 months need 12-16 hours, including naps; ages 1-2 years old need 11-14 hours, including naps; ages 3-5 years old need 10-13 hours, including naps; ages 6-12 years old need 9-12 hours; ages 13-18 years old need 8-10 hours; and persons over 18 years old need 7-8 hours.
While these numbers give you a range of hours of sleep needed by a person’s age, depending on your physical and mental health, the quantity of sleep you may need can also vary. Recent research in several countries pointed to an enormous variability in the amount of sleep quantity that could not be explained. That is why those hours are only guidelines, and you need to determine the quantity of sleep you need.
But focusing on the number of hours you need to sleep is only part of the challenge. The quality of your sleep is just as important to decrease your risk of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and stroke. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) good-quality sleep:
- Heals and repairs your heart and blood vessels
- Helps support a healthy balance of the hormones that trigger hunger and fullness
- Affects how your body reacts to insulin
- Triggers the body to release the hormone that helps repair cells and tissues
- Helps your body fight germs and sickness
To improve the quality of your sleep, there are three steps you can take:
- Keep the same schedule. You do not make up for sleep lost during the week on weekends. A healthy pattern is to keep the same daily wake and sleep schedule.
- Time to decompress. Develop a sleep routine that encourages quiet. At a minimum, allow 2-3 hours before you go to sleep to avoid heavy meals or intense exercise. One hour before, avoid smartphone use, nicotine, caffeine (soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate), and alcohol.
- Create your cocoon: Set up a cool, dark space for you to sleep. This may mean darkening the room or simply pulling the covers over your head.
The bottom line is sleep is not where you cut back. You need the sleep that your body needs. When you do not get quality sleep, you are more likely to gain weight, lose your ability to focus, and have memory problems. Most important of all, sleep is restorative, and that is a wonderful gift that we can give to ourselves.