How much sleep do you need? “As you might guess, I get asked that a lot,” says Ali Al-Himyary, M.D., M.P.H., managing physician of Kelsey-Seybold Clinic’s Sleep Center. “My answer – well, the answer as to how many hours you need is not so straightforward. Sleep needs are individualized, based on your age, occupational stress level, and a variety of other factors, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all amount. However, I generally recommend a daily average of six to seven hours of restorative sleep for an otherwise healthy adult. Before I get into ways to help improve the quality of your sleep, I want to address a few things you might not know.”
- Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. Sleep plays a key role in helping your body repair itself. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to having a lowered immune response and an increased risk of heart disease and strokes because adequate sleep is involved in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels. Extended periods of inadequate sleep can also increase your risk for developing kidney disease and diabetes.
- Getting enough sleep helps you function during the day. Adequate sleep helps meet the physical requirements – your “get up and go” – to successfully meet the challenges of your day. “A patient once told me if his sleep was disrupted, he was a wreck the next day. ‘Wreck’ was an interesting term because drowsiness definitely increases your chances of causing a traffic accident,” Dr. Al-Himyary cautions.
- Restorative sleep is necessary for good job performance. Inadequate sleep eventually leads to forgetfulness, irritability, and mood swings that are sure to be noticed by those around you. This can result in bad performance reviews and career demotions.
Simple strategies to help improve your sleep
- Reduce caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine intake. Caffeinated products decrease a person’s quality of sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant. Avoid coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and caffeine-laced pain relievers for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime. (Better yet, quit using nicotine. Your body will thank you.)
- Turn your bedroom into a sleep-friendly environment. A quiet, darkened, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. To achieve this, dim the lights, and turn off televisions and electronic devices, but turn on an electric fan or another “white noise” device that can help soothe your brain.
- Eat dinner on the early side; avoid sleep-busting, indigestion-producing foods. Make smarter dietary choices throughout the day and especially for the evening meal. Try to finish dinner several hours before bedtime. Avoid, or at least limit, spicy foods. Eating pepperoni pizza at 10 p.m. is likely a recipe for insomnia.
- Balance your fluid intake. Drinking too much, too close to bedtime means awakening for a bathroom trip after which you return to bed and become a late-night clock watcher.
- Stick to a bedtime routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Commit to a sensible, consistent exercise regimen. This helps relieve stress and encourages better sleep. One caveat: Exercising too close to bedtime may actually get you going and make it harder to fall asleep.
- Have a medical checkup to see if a physical issue is disturbing sleep. There could be an underlying physical issue, such as sleep apnea, disturbing your sleep.
“My takeaway message is this: If you’re having chronic sleep problems, see a physician specializing Sleep or Pulmonary Medicine and have a medical evaluation,” says Dr. Al-Himyary. “Unmanaged and ongoing lack of sleep is like a slow-ticking timebomb on your health.”