Healthy Sleep Habits
Robert Joseph Thomas, MD
OCTOBER 20, 2016
When it comes to healthy sleep habits, a lot of Americans have some catching up to do. In fact, recent data suggests that up to 40% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep. Regular sleep deprivation can significantly affect your health, safety, and even your memory. With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to help make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep.
How much is enough:
Your body needs different amounts of sleep for each stage of your life. In general:
- Infants need about 12-15 hours a day
- Toddlers, 11-14 hours a day
- Children, 10-13 hours a day
- Teenagers, 8.5-9.5 hours on average
- Most adults need 7-9 hours a night, although some individuals need as few as 6 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day.
- Pregnant women often need several more hours of sleep than usual.
Make your bedroom a space for sleep:
It might seem obvious, but it’s important to train your brain to associate your bedroom with sleep. That means no working, binging on Netflix or lounging around in bed for hours at a time, all of which can throw off your sleep patterns. It’s also important to make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, dark and clutter-free. Once you’ve created a comfortable environment designed for sleep, you’ll be nodding off in no time.
Stick to a sleep schedule:
Consistency is key. That’s why it’s important to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. A steady sleep schedule can help regulate your body's clock, allowing you to fall asleep more easily and stay asleep the whole night. However, for those of you who lose out on sleep during the week, sleeping an extra one to two hours on the weekend may be beneficial. A mid-afternoon weekend nap for 30-40 minutes can also be beneficial to catch up on lost sleep.
Exercise regularly :
Studies have shown that people who get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week are able to sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. What about the warning that exercising at night can hurt your sleep? For most people, exercising in the evening doesn’t hurt their sleep quality. So, exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep. And remember to avoid exercising under bright light after 8 p.m. as this can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Use light to help manage your circadian rhythms :
Avoid bright light in the evening after 8 p.m., and try to get plenty of sunlight in the morning. This will help keep your circadian rhythms — your sleep/wake biological clock — on schedule. It’s also best to stop using electronic devices at least an hour before bed time since this type of screen time can keep you from both falling asleep and sleeping well. If you like using an electronic device to read, it can help to minimize the brightness/output — although even dim light can have a negative effect. Some people find it helpful to set a technology curfew or make their bedroom an electronics-free zone for a better night’s sleep. And in the shorter days of winter, try using well-lit spaces until about 7 to 8 p.m. and then transitioning to less light.
One last piece of advice: For all you middle-of-the-night snackers, avoid eating treats when you wake up in the middle of the night, as this can result in a disruptive cycle that’s difficult to break.