Lack of sleep is a public health epidemic with an estimated 50 to 70 million United States adults suffering from sleep or wakefulness disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insufficient sleep is linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, medical and other occupational errors. People who are sleep-deprived are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity. So it is no wonder Americans spend millions of dollars each year trying to combat this frustrating condition.
“Sleep is essential for life,” says Nagamalar Raju, M.D., a sleep specialist at Piedmont. “Both quantity and quality is important.”
How much sleep we need varies between individuals, but generally changes as we age. The National Institutes of Health suggests that school-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep each day, teenagers need nine to 10 hours, and adults need seven to eight hours. If you are not achieving this amount of sleep each night, here are some tips that may help get you back on track.
Tips for a good night’s rest
Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.
Avoid large meals before bedtime.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
Make regular exercise a part of your daily routine. Just be sure to finish your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
There are also many myths about how to improve sleep habits. Don’t fall into these bad habits.
MYTH: Insomnia is strictly mental.
It is true that psychological issues can cause insomnia. In fact, many people who suffer from lack of sleep are consumed with stress, but other things can affect sleep, like illness, medication side effects, chronic pain, restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea.
MYTH: Watching TV helps you wind down.
The light and noise of television and computer screens are stimulants. These external factors can reduce brain melatonin levels rather than increase them. Try reading or listening to relaxing music instead.
MYTH: Sleep medication is the answer.
Some sleep aids can help relieve insomnia symptoms temporarily, but they don’t cure the underlying health issues. Plus, they can be addictive. Always talk to your doctor before using sleeping pills.
MYTH: A drink will help you sleep.
This myth probably exists because alcohol can help you fall asleep. But as it moves through your body, it may lead to disturbed, restless sleep or it may make you wake earlier than normal.
MYTH: Your body will adapt to less sleep.
You can learn to get by on less sleep, but you can't train your body to need less sleep. If you're sleep-deprived, your daily performance will likely suffer. Being chronically tired can have serious health consequences.
“There are so many factors that can play into a person’s restless sleep habits. Your primary care doctor or a sleep specialist can help you determine the root of the problem, whether it’s stress, medication, illness or another issue. You may also have a legitimate sleep disorder, which needs to be treated with help from your doctor. The value of sleep is too precious to overlook,” Dr. Raju says.
Learn more about the importance of sleep during the cancer journey.