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Sleep hygiene refers to the quantity and quality of the sleep that you obtain each night. It is important to get an appropriate amount of sleep, making sure it’s not too little or too excessive. Our sleep needs are dynamic and change across different ages and can be impacted by lifestyle and health status. As a general guide, teens need about 8-10 hours a night, young adults and adults need about 7-9 hours, and adults 65+ need about 7-8 hours each night. Having good sleep hygiene is critical to your overall health and can have a significant positive impact on the reduction of high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Make sure that your bedroom is completely conducive to sleep. Dark shades, noise reduction and eliminating a bright clock are helpful. Avoid nicotine, alcohol and caffeine a minimum of four hours prior to anticipated bedtime. Try to maintain a regular circadian rhythm and sleep cycle by being consistent with the time that you go to sleep and awaken each day as much as possible. Exercising earlier in the day is better than in the evening. Make sure that you balance your fluid intake to avoid excessive amounts of volume before bedtime which may trigger more trips to the bathroom during the night.
If you do not awaken with pain or soreness, there may be no need to change your sleep position. However, the vast majority of people do sleep on their side which can lead to significant shoulder and neck pain. If you are a side sleeper, make sure that you use a pillow that’s thick enough to support your head and take some of the pressure off your shoulders as well as your neck. In addition, sleeping on your right side can potentially increase problems of heartburn and acid reflux. Those who sleep on their stomach should use a flatter pillow to avoid excessive pressure on the neck and upper back. Sleeping on your back is the best position anatomically speaking, but less than 10% of people actually do so. Sleeping on your back helps to reduce aches, pains and heartburn because it allows the body to rest in a completely neutral position. The downside to sleeping on the back is that it can increase the amount of snoring. Regardless of which position you ultimately sleep in, comfort is the key and if you awaken refreshed and without significant aches or pains, you’re probably in the perfect position!
How can I tell the difference between occasional bouts of insomnia versus something that needs medical attention?
If you’ve already made an effort to address all the things you can do on your own and continued to have insomnia, that would be a good indicator to seek medical attention.
Start by seeing your primary care physician. They can often help you work through some additional factors that may be contributing to your insomnia before recommending or prescribing any type of medication to improve your ability to fall asleep or staying asleep. In some instances, they may even recommend that you undergo a sleep study along with consultation with the physician who specializes in sleep disorders.
I’ve read a lot about how a good night’s sleep is critical to your overall health. Any tips for the rest of us?
Unfortunately, for children adults alike, we are part of a modern society and generation of chronically sleep deprived individuals. Recent studies indicate that as many as 87% of high school students do not get the recommended 8-10 hours of daily sleep. Routine over-programming, high expectations for academic and athletic performance, along with the technological and social pressures consume a disproportionate number of hours daily. The deficit this creates has a negative impact on quality sleep time for all of us.
Failing to get an adequate amount of quality sleep on a regular basis can lead to a long list of significant health problems, including issues with learning and behavior, mental health issues such as memory loss and depression, a higher risk of obesity and behaviors that are likely to foster dependence on medication or recreational drugs. Scientific studies have also shown that there is significant worsening of hypertension, diabetes and emotional disorders with ongoing sleep deprivation.
As the new school year is about to begin, what is the best way for me to get my kids back on track and help them get a good night’s sleep?
There is significant scientific evidence suggesting how not only the amount of sleep we get each day but the quality of that sleep is critical to our overall health. So you are wise to get your kids back on track after a summer of deprogramming and fun. Perhaps the best recommendation is to begin “powering down” our brains at least one hour
Perhaps the best recommendation is to begin “powering down” our brains at least one hour before scheduled bedtime. This means turning off all the electronics around us including TVs, laptops and Smart phones. Bright light is one of the primary triggers that your brain uses to help regulate your sleep/wake cycle. Limiting that exposure prior to bedtime is critical. Setting a specific time or even an alarm signaling when it is time to go to bed can begin to get you back on track. Try and do this before the school year starts to adjust to this new circadian rhythm.
Other simple things that you can do include limiting caffeine intake many hours prior to bedtime, assuring that the bedroom is quiet and dark, and for those of you would like to share the bed with your favorite pet, reconsider having your dog or cat find her own perfect place to sleep outside of the bedroom.
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