Getting Adequate Sleep
The Consequences of Inadequate Sleep
Although the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep, most of us get by with very
little sleep. The demands of work, children, and managing our lives can make it
hard to get the rest we need. It can be challenging to “turn off” any worries we
may have about things such as medical problems, financial difficulties, or an ailing
marriage, when it’s finally time to go to bed. The combination of stress and lack
of sleep can leave anyone feeling grumpy and impatient, with little energy left
to deal with the people and problems in our lives.
Research now shows that getting enough sleep is essential to good health. Lack of
sleep can actually make you vulnerable to infections because sleep deprivation affects
your immune system. Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that chronic
lack of sleep affects your hormonal and metabolic systems, sometimes accelerating
the onset and severity of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Other research
has shown that insufficient sleep can actually increase the odds of having a heart
Impaired concentration, memory, and reaction times are other consequences of poor
sleep. Lack of sleep can be downright dangerous. The National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration estimates that more than 100,000 vehicle crashes each year are caused
by drivers who fall asleep at the wheel.
Sleep time is essential for restoring your physical, mental, and emotional energy.
Without enough sleep, you’re like a car that’s low on gas. Take time to refuel and
you will have much more energy to embrace the challenges and opportunities of your
Tips for Improving Your Sleep
Many problems with sleep are actually caused by poor sleep habits. Fortunately,
there are several things you can do to improve the length and quality of your sleep.
Try these tips from The National Sleep Foundation’s website (sleepfoundation.org)
to help you get a good night’s sleep:
1. Keep a regular sleep schedule. Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated
by a "circadian clock" in our brain and the body's need to balance
both sleep time and wake time. That is also why it is important to keep a regular
bedtime and wake-time, even on the weekends when there is the temptation to sleep-in.
2. Avoid caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it can
produce an alerting effect. Caffeine products, such as coffee, tea, colas and chocolate,
remain in the body on average from 3 to 5 hours, but they can affect some people
up to 12 hours later. Even if you do not think caffeine affects you, it may be disrupting
and changing the quality of your sleep. Avoiding caffeine within 6-8 hours of going
to bed can help improve sleep quality.
3. Avoid nicotine. Nicotine is also a stimulant. Smoking before
bed makes it more difficult to fall asleep. When smokers go to sleep, they experience
withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, which also cause sleep problems. Nicotine can
cause difficulty falling asleep, problems waking in the morning, and may also cause
nightmares. Difficulty sleeping is just one more reason to quit smoking.
4. Avoid alcohol. Although many people think of alcohol as a sleep
aid because of its sedating effect, it actually disrupts sleep, causing nighttime
awakenings. Consuming alcohol leads to a night of less restful sleep.
5. Don't eat or drink too much close to bedtime. Eating or
drinking too much may make you less comfortable when settling down for bed. It is
best to avoid a heavy meal too close to bedtime. Also, spicy foods may cause heartburn,
which leads to difficulty falling asleep and discomfort during the night. Try to
restrict fluids close to bedtime to prevent nighttime awakenings to go to the bathroom,
though some people find milk or herbal, non-caffeinated teas to be soothing and
a helpful part of a bedtime routine.
6. Exercise at the right time promotes sleep. In general, exercising
regularly makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. However,
exercising sporadically or right before going to bed will make falling asleep more
difficult. In addition to making us more alert, our body temperature rises during
exercise, and takes as much as 6 hours to begin to drop. A cooler body temperature
provides a signal that it is time to sleep. Finish your exercise at least 3 hours
before bedtime. Late afternoon exercise is the perfect way to help you fall asleep
7. Use relaxing bedtime rituals. A relaxing, routine activity right
before bedtime conducted away from bright lights sends a signal to your body that
it is almost time to go to sleep and will make it easier to fall asleep. Avoid arousing
activities before bedtime like working, paying bills, engaging in competitive games
or family problem-solving activities. Try an activity that is relaxing, such as
soaking in a hot tub, reading or listening to music, or having a massage. Some studies
suggest that soaking in hot water (such as a hot tub or bath) before retiring to
bed can ease the transition into deeper sleep, but it should be done early enough
that you are no longer sweating or over-heated. If you are unable to avoid tension
and stress, it may be helpful to learn relaxation therapy from a trained professional.
8. Create a sleep-promoting environment. Design your sleep environment
to establish the conditions you need for sleep: cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and
free of interruptions. Also make your bedroom reflective of the value you place
on sleep. Check your room for noise or other distractions, including a bed partner's
sleep disruptions such as snoring, light, and a dry or hot environment. Consider
using blackout curtains, eyeshades, earplugs, "white noise," humidifiers
and other devices. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive —the one
you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy—about 9 or 10
years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room
attractive and inviting for sleep, but also free of allergens that might affect
you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during
9. Associate your bed with sleep and sex only. Use your bed only
for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate
a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime
routine. For example, if looking at a bedroom clock makes you anxious about how
much time you have before you must get up, move the clock out of sight. Do not engage
in activities that cause you anxiety and prevent you from sleeping.
10. Limit sleep time in bed. If you do not fall asleep within 15-20
minutes of going to bed and turning out the lights, it is best to get out of bed
and do another relaxing activity until you are feeling sleepy again. If anxiety
about something you need to do prevents you from sleeping, it is sometimes helpful
to jot down notes in a "worry" or "to do" book. Nap during the
day only when needed to maintain alertness and plan on napping 20-30 minutes.
For Further Reading