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Sleep smarter, live better: Expert tips to improve your sleep quality

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Either way, it’s critical for your health to get enough sleep. Not getting enough shuteye is bad for your heart and is associated with a host of other health issues. But in our day-to-day lives, getting enough sleep can be downright difficult.

Here’s what you need to know about sleep and how to make sure you’re getting enough of it.

 

What is sleep?

Sleep is your body’s downtime, a daily opportunity to rest and recharge, right? Yes and no. Your body may be resting, but your brain is hard at work, and there’s much we still don’t understand.

We do know that our brain cycles between REM and non-REM sleep four to five times every night. During the REM cycles, we dream, our breathing increases and our body is paralyzed. During non-REM cycles, our brain is creating memories and performing a sort of mental clean-up after the day’s events.

That means if you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t have enough time to rest and repair, and your brain doesn’t have enough time to properly “file” your memories and get organized for the next day.

 

Dr. Brian Huber, family medicine physician at Beacon Medical Group Mishawaka Primary Plus

How much sleep is enough?

“The average adult age 18 to 64 needs seven to nine hours of sleep at night,” explained Dr. Brian Huber,  family medicine physician at Beacon Medical Group Mishawaka Primary Plus. “But most of us don’t get that much, unfortunately.”

Sleep recommendations drop to seven to eight hours a night after age 65. Children need more sleep, depending on their age. For school-age kids, 9 to 11 hours a night are recommended, and teenagers should sleep 8 to 10 hours a night.

People who don’t get enough sleep have an increased risk of obesity, hypertension, higher fasting blood glucose, inflammation, suppressed immunity, lower “good” cholesterol and higher “bad” cholesterol. In one study of healthy adults, people who reporting getting less than six hours of sleep per night had a 20% higher risk of heart attack!

In terms of cognitive abilities like being able to focus, process information and remember things, studies have shown that getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night for three days in a row is equivalent to getting NO sleep for two nights.

Clearly, sleep has a profound effect on our overall health.

 

It’s all about hygiene

The key to better sleep is better sleep hygiene, meaning your habits that affect the ability to go to sleep ― and sleep soundly ― every night. Aim to:

  • Go to bed the same time every evening.
  • Avoid naps.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch.
  • Avoid alcohol in the evening.
  • Don’t smoke or use other products containing nicotine.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat dinner early in the evening.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet, free of distractions like your phone or TV.

“Sleep hygiene guidelines are simple. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy for everyone to follow,” said Dr. Huber. He acknowledges that factors over which we have limited control can present real obstacles to quality sleep.

“Children, shift work, your spouse’s activities, pets, living arrangements — all of these things can interrupt your sleep schedule,” he explained. “And medical realities like frequent urination, mental health conditions, chronic pain and even medications can also interfere with sleep.”

But many common obstacles to better sleep are in our control. Take a look at your habits and see what’s within your power to change. It’s okay to stop drinking coffee before the pot is empty, for example. And if you’ve earned a reward, choose something other than an afternoon nap or late-night snack.

“Do you really need to scroll through social media in bed at night?” asked Dr. Huber. “And, if your daily exercise is limited to walking to the bathroom several times a day, that’s not helping your sleep, either.”

 

When good sleep stays out of reach — what’s next?

If your sleep hygiene is as good as it can get, what other options are there? Dr. Huber advises that if you’re having trouble sleeping, the first step should be talking with your healthcare provider. Your doctor can safely guide you through available options, including a referral to sleep specialist, if needed.

Although sleep problems can take a toll on your health, the good news is that even one more hour a night can make a big difference. Be kind to yourself, and make your nighttime rest a priority.

 

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No matter your need or age, our primary care doctors are here to treat your medical needs. If you’re looking for a new family doctor, Beacon Health System is here to serve you. Use our provider search tool to find a physician.