Healthy sleep habits

When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? If you can’t remember, chances are good that you are one of the millions of Americans suffering from sleep deprivation.

An estimated 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep or wakefulness disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The two most notable disorders are insomnia and sleep apnea, but there could be a number of other things preventing you from sleeping, including restless leg syndrome (RLS), general stress or anxiety, depression, or simply not leaving enough time for sleep during your day or making it a priority.

How much sleep do you need each night?

The National Sleep Foundation conducted a world-class study on sleep that took more than two years of research to complete. Eighteen scientists and researchers took part in the study to create guidelines about how much sleep you really need at each age. The recommendations:

  • Newborns (0-3 months ): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

The dangers of not getting enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on your health. It also can put you at a much greater risk for having an accident while driving. In fact, many experts are beginning to draw parallels between drowsy driving and drunk driving. They report that sleep deprivation can affect your body in much the same way as drunk driving.

“Being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (for reference, .08 is considered drunk). If you’ve been awake for a full 24 hours and drive—say, after a night where you just couldn’t fall asleep—it’s like you have a blood alcohol level of .10,” according to the National Sleep Foundation.

About 60 percent of U.S. adults admit they have driven drowsy. And, in a recent sleep study, more than one-third report that they have unintentionally fallen asleep during the day at least once in the past month. All of this daytime sleepiness can lead to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, medical errors, errors at your job, and general difficulty even performing daily tasks.

Physically, sleep deprivation has been associated with a number of diseases. Lack of sleep can put you at greater risk for high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, obesity, even cancer.

What to do if you can’t sleep

There is a difference between sleeping at night and sleeping well at night. If you are not sleeping well at night, it could be that sleep apnea is interfering with your sleep and you should see a doctor.

If you can’t go to sleep because you have insomnia or because something is bothering you, you may be able to adjust your approach to sleeping.

If you get into bed and haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes, get up and go to another room. Do something relaxing. Have a cup of warm milk or non-caffeinated tea, read, or listen to music.

“Lying in bed awake can create an unhealthy link between your sleeping environment and wakefulness. Instead, you want your bed to conjure sleepy thoughts and feelings only,” reports the National Sleep Foundation.

Improve your sleep hygiene

To get a good night’s sleep, try these tips from the CDC and National Sleep Foundation:

  • Make sleep a priority
  • Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
  • Avoid nicotine
  • Exercise