It’s no secret that getting a good night’s sleep is important for good health and to stay alert. Your reality, though, may be that you don’t always follow through on getting enough sleep, or you simply can’t figure out why you’re not getting the restful sleep that you want. There are a few simple choices you can make that can help with getting the sleep you need, and the benefits might be more important than you realize.
Why is sleep important?
Not getting enough sleep may leave you feeling tired and sluggish, but the impact of getting enough sleep goes beyond this. Sleep is an essential process for the body. It helps your brain function properly, affecting your ability to make decisions and think logically. Sleep also helps your body in fighting off diseases. Healthline notes that the long term effects of sleep deprivation can include weakened immunity, high blood pressure, a risk for diabetes and/or heart disease, and poor balance. Getting those z’s is important!
How much sleep should I get?
The National Institute of Health recommends the following amounts of sleep per day, based on age:
- Infants aged 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
- Children aged 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
- Children aged 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
- Children aged 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
- Teens aged 13-18 years: 8-10 hours
- Adults aged 18 years or older: 7-9 hours
Note that the ranges for older children, teens, and adults are for continuous nighttime sleep. Naps during the day can sometimes help when you feel unrested, but they are not a replacement for a good nighttime sleep.
If you’re not sure how much sleep you’re getting, or if you’re not getting quality sleep, consider keeping a sleep diary with details about how much you sleep and how you feel. You can share this information with your doctor to talk about how you might improve sleep. You can see a sample sleep diary here.
What should I do so that I get the sleep I need?
There are a few simple lifestyle changes that can help with getting adequate, restful sleep that have been identified by multiple reliable medical resources like the Mayo Clinic and the CDC.
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.
- Create a sleep-friendly environment. Try to keep things cool, dark, and quiet. There are a variety of tools, from earplugs to sleep masks, that can help achieve that kind of environment.
- Try to distress and compartmentalize concerns so that you aren’t dwelling on them right before you go to bed.
- If you can’t fall asleep after about 20 minutes, do something else that is relaxing (read, listen to music, take a bath), then go back to bed when you are tired.
- Avoid eating a lot of food at least two hours before bedtime. Likewise, don’t go to bed hungry. Also, avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine before going to bed.
- Avoid physical activity close to bedtime, but do engage in exercise as part of your day.
- Limit your daytime naps to 30 minutes total.
- Avoid light-emitting screens right before going to bed. Darkness causes our bodies to produce melatonin, a hormone that causes sleepiness. Your tablet, computer, or phone screen mimics sunlight, which makes your body think that it is still daytime.
- If you have continual issues with being unable to fall asleep or get a restful sleep, contact your doctor. You may have a sleep disorder or some other issue that is interfering with your sleep.
A good night’s sleep means waking up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, so don’t skimp on sleeping. Like eating a balanced diet, exercise, and regular medical checkups, it’s a key part of a healthy lifestyle.