The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep

Although sleep experts recommend adults get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, American adults are now averaging 6 hours per night. It is estimated that 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough z’s. Are you one of them?

Many people think sleep is just for resting at the end of their busy day. They justify less sleep by saying: “I feel fine.” However, sleeping is as important as any other activity a person does during the day. When we sleep, our immune system is activated to hunt and kill viruses, bacteria, and even cancer cells.

Our brain reviews all the information taken in during wake hours, then sorts and files it in an organized way to build memory. Psychological stability is also an important function of sleep. With sufficient sleep hours, a person wakes refreshed, with the mental and physical energy needed for a new day.

Dennis Hwang, MD, and Physician Assistant Cindy Gulley, national behavioral sleep medicine experts at Kaiser Permanente’s San Bernardino County Sleep Center located at Fontana Medical Center, stress that sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can put you at an increased risk of physical and mental conditions, which can affect your overall health. Dr. Hwang advises that sleeping for 7 to 8 hours a night is best for maintaining a healthy metabolism among adults.

Dr. Hwang offers the following answers to frequently asked questions about the importance of sleep:

Can I make up for lost weeknight sleep on weekends?

No. While it may help some, sleeping long hours on weekends can actually contribute to insomnia. Your best bet is to keep the same sleep schedule all week long.

Do older people need less sleep?

Not always. Studies show all adults, with few exceptions, need to ideally sleep between 7 and 8 hours per night. Older adults are less active in the day, and nap often, which makes night sleep more difficult. Staying active in the day is the key. Going outside in sunlight is energizing, and makes it easier to sleep at night.

Will consuming caffeine make it harder for me to fall asleep?

It’s not advisable to consume caffeine late in the day, as it’s likely to stimulate your nervous system and may stop your body from naturally relaxing at night. In fact, according to one study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bed significantly worsened sleep quality.

What about alcohol?

Avoid drinking alcohol before bedtime. It does make people relaxed and drowsy, but it suppresses production of melatonin, the natural sleep hormone, causing very disrupted sleep patterns and reduction of REM sleep. REM sleep is needed for mental stability.

If I wake up in the middle of the night, does that mean I don’t sleep well?

Not necessarily. It’s normal to occasionally wake up during the night. As long as you can go back to sleep and you feel rested when you wake up, it’s normal to occasionally wake up during the night. If symptoms such as daytime sleepiness occur, further evaluation may be needed.

What about using my smartphone or tablet before I go to bed?

It is easy to say NO, but we are very attached to our devices and constant flow of information. Research has found that exposure to blue-white light suppresses your body’s production of melatonin. Without sufficient melatonin it is difficult to fall and stay asleep. Blocking blue light with special glasses and turning down blue light on devices can really help.

Can I watch TV in bed to relax to sleep? 

No. Bed should be reserved for sleep. Wait until you are sleepy to go to bed. The bedroom should be dark, cool, and quiet to optimize the quality of sleep. Avoid checking the time during the night; it causes anxiety. Use an alarm to wake. Morning sunlight is important to be wakeful and energetic in the day.

The facts are clear: getting a good night’s sleep is critically important to everyone’s good health. If you’re in need of sleep therapy, or want more information about a Kaiser Permanente sleep center, please visit www.kp.org. We want you to sleep well, sleep enough, be well, and thrive!

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