All of us have had sleepy days when we’re just not operating at full capacity. In recent years, however, sleep deprivation has morphed into an epidemic. In fact, an estimated 50-70 million American adults report having sleep or wakefulness disorders, something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now regards as a major health crisis.
Increasingly, sleep deprivation is linked to hazardous incidents like motor vehicle crashes, industrial accidents and medical errors, just to name a few. And the impact on our health is tremendous. People who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk of chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity. It also impacts the incidence of cancer, increases mortality, and reduces quality of life and productivity.
When it comes to the amount sleep we should get, we now know the standard recommendation of 8 hours per night just doesn’t fit everyone. Sleep needs vary from person to person, and are impacted by our lifestyle and health. However, the National Sleep Foundation provides these sleep guidelines:
- Newborns (0-2 months) – 12-18 hours
- Infants (3-11 months) – 14-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-3 years) – 12-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years) – 11-13 hours
- School Age Children (5-10 years) – 10-11 hours
- Teens (11-17 years) – 8.5-9.5 hours
- Adults (18+ years) – 7-9 hours
Knowing how much sleep we need and actually getting it are two very different things, but there are a few “sleep hygiene” strategies to consider. For example, a relaxing routine before bedtime conducted away from bright lights (and electronics) can help reduce anxiety and ease you into dreamland. Sticking to the same bedtime and wake time, even on weekends, will help regulate your body’s clock and make falling asleep and waking much easier. And as much as you want that “power nap,” try to avoid it, if possible. Even adding light exercise into your daily routine can help shift your sleep patterns, but beware that many people find it difficult to sleep after exercising in the evenings. And don’t underestimate the effects alcohol and caffeine have on your sleep. Try to avoid them both late.
If you’re still not sleeping well, take a look around your bedroom to see if anything in your environment needs an overhaul. For optimal Zs, researchers suggest sleeping in a room that’s between 60-67 degrees, free from light and disturbing noises. Many find it beneficial to install “blackout” curtains, as well as add “white noise” in the form of a humidifier or fan to block unwanted sound. Also make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable, supportive and free from allergens. Industry experts recommend switching out mattresses every 9 or 10 years and adding hypoallergenic covers to pillows.
If you still find yourself sleepwalking through the day and are not coming close to your target sleep times, seek the advice of your physician. There are many new therapies that may help you get the sleep you need.