Q & A: How Sleep Affects Your Health

Let’s talk a bit about sleep and its effect on your well being.

how sleep affects your healthWith our busy, modern lives, sleep can sometimes seem like a luxury. Yet possibly one of the most overlooked areas of your health and well being is how much sleep you get per night.

Sleep plays a vital role in your overall health: just like food and water, your body needs it to survive. Your mental health, physical health, and even your safety are all affected by how much sleep you get each night. The negative impacts of sleep deficiency can be both immediate and long term.

For example, a lack of sleep can cause you to feel groggy at the wheel, increasing your chances of a car accident. Studies also show that chronic sleep deficiency can increase the risk of long-term health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.1

People may lack sleep because of work schedules, or because of sleep disorders and other underlying health issues. If you find that you aren’t getting enough rest at night, take steps to improve your quality of sleep and find out what could be causing your sleep troubles. One thing is certain: if you want to improve your mental and physical health and quality of life, you need sufficient, restful sleep.

Here are a few frequently asked questions and answers that people generally have regarding sleep issues:

Q:
I’m having trouble sleeping lately. Does this increase my chances of getting sick?

A:
Sleep is absolutely important for good health, and studies show that a lack of sleep can lower your defenses against sickness. A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that participants who averaged less than 7 hours of sleep per night were three times more likely to develop symptoms of the common cold after exposure to the rhinovirus than those who averaged more than 8 hours of sleep per night.2

Q:
What if there’s no time for sleep? What can people do to sleep better?

A:
There’s no easy way around this: sleep is a necessity. Sleep provides your body with the opportunity to restore itself – tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis are important functions that occur almost exclusively while you are asleep!3

Sticking to a routine can help ensure that you leave enough time in your day for enough sleep. Make sure that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – a consistent schedule can help to maintain your body’s sleep cycles and promote restful sleep at night. Coming up with a nightly routine to relax before you hit the hay can also help you to sleep better. Some soothing activities to consider include reading, practicing deep breathing, using relaxing essential oils, listening to calming music, or taking a warm bath. Try to avoid using your smartphone or TV before going to bed, as there is research that suggests that screen time can interfere with your Zzzzz’s! A recent pediatric study found that sleeping near screens or with a TV in the room was associated with shorter sleep durations and less restful sleep.4

Q:
Should we avoid napping?

A:
Long naps during the day are thought to affect how you sleep at night. However, new emerging research suggests that planning for short naps (10-30 minutes in duration) could be the best way to combat daytime sleepiness! A 2008 study done by British researchers found that naps were more effective than both consuming caffeine and getting additional nighttime sleep for combating a mid-afternoon “hump” of sleepiness. Try to avoid longer naps, which can lead to daytime grogginess.5

Of course, this recommendation goes for adults – young children still need varying amounts of daytime sleep in order to thrive.

Q:
How much sleep do children need?

A:
In general, no matter what the age, children do need a great deal of sleep. Sleep is particularly important in children because of its effect on growth and development. The deep sleep that children achieve at night triggers the release of hormones that promote growth, increase muscle growth, and repair cells and body tissues.1

There are different recommendations for the amount of sleep that children need based upon age. Here is a snapshot of the amount of sleep needed per day (including naps in young children!):

  • Newborn babies (infants up to 6 months of age) do not yet have internal clocks. They sleep up to 18 hours per day (both during the day and at night!)
  • Babies between 6 months of age and 1 year need an average of 14 hours of sleep per day, with 2-3 naps included. Naps usually last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours each.
  • Toddlers (ages 1 -3) sleep about 12-14 hours per day, including naps.
    Preschoolers (ages 3-5) sleep an average of 11-12 hours per night, and may need a nap if they do not get this amount at night.
  • Teenagers need about 9 hours of sleep per night.6

Q:
How much sleep does the average person need?

A:
The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep per night, while older adults need 7-8 hours.7

Q:
What are some ways to get a better night’s sleep?

A:
First, and most importantly, you must make sleep a priority – schedule enough time for sleep like you would do with any other activity. Pay attention to your sleep habits and how you feel in the morning. Here are a few things you can do to improve your sleep at night:

  • Stick to a schedule, even on holidays and weekends.
  • Have a relaxing nighttime routine, such as reading or listening to relaxing music. Avoid using electronic devices for at least one hour prior to sleep.
  • Exercise during the day.
  • Create an ideal sleeping environment – look at temperature, sound, and light. Strive for a quiet, cool, dark bedroom for deep restful sleep!
  • Ensure that your mattress and pillows are comfortable.7

Q: How do you know if you are under-slept?

A:
Aside from feelings of sleepiness or grogginess during the day, there are other signs of sleep deficiency. Mood swings and irritability, lack of motivation, anxiety and depression, performance problems, lack of concentration, lack of coordination, lack of energy, poor decisions, increased errors, and forgetfulness are some of the effects that a lack of sleep can have on your wellbeing.4

The bottom line is this: No matter how old you are, or what shape you’re in, quality sleep can dramatically CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

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Sources:

1″Why Is Sleep Important?” NHLBI, NIH. US Department of Health & Human Services, 22 Feb. 2012. Web.

2Cohen, Sheldon, William J. Doyle, Cuneyt M. Alper, Denise Janicki-Deverts, and Ronald B. Turner. “Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold.” Arch Intern Med Archives of Internal Medicine 169.1 (2009): 62. Web.

3″Sleep and Health.” Sleep and Health. Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, 16 Jan. 2008. Web.

4 Falbe, J., K. K. Davison, R. L. Franckle, C. Ganter, S. L. Gortmaker, L. Smith, T. Land, and E. M. Taveras. “Sleep Duration, Restfulness, and Screens in the Sleep Environment.” Pediatrics 135.2 (2015): n. pag. Web.

5″Napping May Not Be Such a No-no – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. Harvard Health Publications, 1 Nov. 2009. Web.

6Gupta, Rupal Christine, MD. “All About Sleep.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, Nov. 2014. Web.

7″How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? National Sleep Foundation, n.d. Web.