Sleep is an essential part of human health. While people dream their bodies and brains make important physical changes. Blood pressure drops and breath slows, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. The body fixes tissues and regulates hormones while the brain removes toxins, strengthens memories, and prepares to learn new skills. Adequate, high-quality sleep is essential for growth and development in children and teens.
Although sleep is a basic human need, it’s often not a priority. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 35 percent of U.S. adults are getting fewer than seven hours of sleep each night. Two-thirds of high school students are getting fewer than eight hours. Compare this to what the National Sleep Foundation suggests:
- Preschoolers (3–5): 10–13 hours
- School-age children (6–13): to 9–11 hours
- Teenagers (14–17): 8–10 hours
- Adults (18–64): 7–9 hours
- Older adults (65+): 7–8 hours.
When people are sleep deprived it causes a number of short- and long-term problems. Lack of sleep can lead to: trouble with making decisions and solving problems; difficulty coping with change and controlling behavior and emotions; and an increased risk of suicide, depression, and risk-taking behavior. Children and teens who lack sleep may act impulsivity, struggle to pay attention, and fail to get along with others. They may feel more stressed or lack motivation.
Lack of sleep also changes the way the body interprets hunger signals, making it difficult to manage food cravings. Because sleep influences how the body reacts to insulin, poor sleep may increase the risk for diabetes. It can also contribute to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Healthy sleep habits can decrease the risk of serious health problems and improve quality of life. Below are some good practices to adopt:
- Stick to a regular bedtime and consistent wake-up time. Variable sleep schedules interfere with the hormone release that regulates falling and staying asleep.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine. It can help the body prepare for sleep.
- Choose light exposure carefully. Experiencing sunlight during the day and darkness at night helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Artificial light interferes with this circadian rhythm, so it’s best to avoid bright light from lamps, cell phone screens, and TV screens at night.
- Limit daytime naps. Stick to 30 minutes or less.
- Eat for sleep. Avoid heavy meals and alcohol prior to bed. Decrease or eliminate caffeine and nicotine.
- Keep a sleep diary. Tracking sleep and the things that affect it can help patients pinpoint issues.
Prioritizing sleep can make a significant impact on overall well-being and physical health. Don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or find a sleep professional for more advice.
Mary Junkin is a physician assistant in Vancouver Clinic’s Sleep Medicine Department. She enjoys educating patients about their condition and counseling individuals adapting to using a CPAP machine.