Sleep is just as important to your health and productivity as exercise and good nutrition. During sleep the immune system is bolstered, muscles heal, memory consolidates and hormones that regulate your appetite are released. Consistent, adequate sleep can help lower your risk for certain diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as help you maintain a healthy weight.
The impact of missed sleep is cumulative. Consistently allowing other activities to creep into your sleep time, or waiting to go to sleep until after everything else is done can seriously impact your health. Lack of sleep can cause problems such as excessive daytime sleepiness, increased risk for vehicle accidents, impaired decision-making, depression and other mental health issues and even relationship and work conflicts.
The most important thing you can do is make sleep a priority that is scheduled into your day. While sleep is highly individual, most adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep during a 24-hour cycle.
Quantity and quality of sleep are important, so make sure your sleeptime is uninterrupted for maximum benefits. Habits to promote good sleep include:
Hold to a regular bedtime and wakeup time even over the weekend.
Avoid sleep interrupting substances such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime. Many people think of alcohol as a sleep aid, but it can disrupt sleep by causing you to wake up during the night. Caffeine and nicotine should be avoided for at least 3 to 5 hours before bedtime.
Eat at least two to three hours before bedtime.
Exercise regularly, but not right before bedtime.
Establish a good sleep environment that is relaxing, dark and cool free of distractions such as electronic devices or lights.
Treat yourself to calming activities before bedtime such as taking a bath, listening to soothing music or reading.
Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, snoring, narcolepsy or restless leg syndrome, affect more than 50 million Americans.
While many people experience the occasional sleepless night or sacrifice sleep for other activities, these irregularities should be the exception rather than the rule. If you consistently feel sleepy throughout the day, it may be an indication of a sleep disorder.
Other symptoms that may indicate a sleep disorder include
Waking up in the morning with headaches
High blood pressure
Feeling irritable, fatigued or finding it difficult to concentrate
Having trouble staying awake while driving, watching TV, reading a book or attending a meeting
Waking up choking or gasping for air, or experiencing a skipping or racing heartbeat during the night
Witnessed pauses in breathing, snoring and making periodic involuntary movements that indicate fitful sleep
Involuntary leg twitching and jerking
If you have any of these symptoms or are having difficulty sleeping or getting adequate sleep, talk to your doctor. It may be helpful to keep a sleep journal to discover patterns or habits that interrupt your sleep. To rule out a sleep disorder, your doctor may order a comprehensive sleep study.
Dr. Thomas Burke is the medical director of the Susquehanna Health Sleep Center, which is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.