You’re Feeling Sleepy, Sleepy…Zzzz…
One of the most common reasons why people go to their doctor’s office is described by these three words, often uttered through a mix of exhaustion and frustration – “I can’t sleep!”
Everyone needs to get a good night’s sleep. Doing so is restorative, and sets the stage for a day where we can be both productive and pleasant. On the other hand, insufficient sleep can:
- impair judgment, leading to mistakes in school or on the job
- make us cranky, irritable, and less able to cope with everyday stresses
- negatively impact our quality of life
A lack of sleep could impact your health
In addition, getting only a few hours of sleep a night for a lengthy period of time can contribute to serious health issues like high blood pressure.
Need another reason to try to get enough sleep? Not doing so increases your chances of being overweight. It’s true – people who regularly get less sleep than is typically recommended are more likely to gain unwanted weight. This holds true for children, too.
That person who says they get a lot done at night because they only need 4-5 hours of sleep a night? It’s possible, but highly unlikely. We might feel like we need to stay up late to get more things done, but we’re actually better off getting a good night’s rest so we can be fresh, in a good frame of mind, and more efficient with our time. In fact, many experts say we should take a more natural approach with regards to sleep – go to bed when the sun sets, and get up with sunrise.
How much sleep do we really need?
Children under age 5 years should be getting around 12 hours of sleep per night. During the elementary school years, parents should be making sure our kids go to bed early enough to give them a good chance of getting 10 hours of sleep. As children enter middle school, nine hours is considered an acceptable period of sleep time, while 7-9 hours is typically prescribed for older teens and adults.
If you’re having severe difficulty getting enough sleep make sure to speak with your doctor. There are many causes for insomnia or non-restorative sleep, many of which that can be treated effectively, but you won’t know for sure until you speak with your healthcare provider.
Guidelines for promoting a healthy sleep pattern
Here are a few general guidelines that can be helpful in promoting a healthy sleep pattern - we’ll put them under the heading of “sleep hygiene.” Consider the following 7 ideas and see if any might apply well to you and your family:
- Have a set bedtime for everyone (including you!), and make sure everyone holds to it (again, including you!).
- About an hour before bedtime start turning all the “screens” off – the computer, the television, the cell phone. Turn the lights down a little, play some soft music, anything that sends the signal that the day is winding down and it’s time to prepare for a pleasant night’s rest.
- Use the bed for sleeping – that means no television in the bedroom, no paying bills in bed, and no laptop work as you’re tucking yourself in.
- Continue to exercise regularly, just not late in the day.
- If you must drink caffeinated beverages keep them to a minimum, and none after 3:00 pm. In addition, make sure your children don’t get caught up in drinking “energy” drinks, which are commonly high in caffeine. Come to think of it, since the need for caffeine often speaks to a general lack of sleep, wouldn’t it be better to simply go to sleep earlier and skip the caffeine altogether..?
- If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation, and be aware that while alcohol can help us fall asleep, it also promotes us waking up after a few hours.
- If you do wake up in the middle of the night, and can’t get back to sleep within 15 minutes, get up and do some gentle breathing exercises, listen to relaxing music, or make your self a cup of tea (decaffeinated) before going back to bed. The purpose is to reinforce in your mind that your bed is for sleep, not for tossing and turning. And don’t turn on the computer or television – that will likely keep you awake.
When to seek medical advice for sleep difficulties
Again, if you’re regularly experiencing difficulty with sleep be sure to speak with your doctor. Insomnia is a big issue, not a small one. Some people have problems like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome that need to be addressed, and your doctor or pharmacist can identify whether medications you may be taking could be causing sleep difficulties.
A very good resource you might review is offered on the web site of The National Sleep Foundation
Wishing you sweet dreams (may they all come true).