In today’s busy, 24/7 society, many of us fail to allocate sufficient time or attention to our sleep. Healthy sleep is a fundamental aspect of our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. When sleep problems occur, the impact on our quality of life is significant and we may experience problems with alertness, productivity, safety, mood regulation, and physical health.
The following Ten Steps to Better Sleep provide a good place to begin assessing sleep health:
- Make sleep a priority in your life. Establish a consistent sleep/wake schedule that provides adequate sleep every night. Most adults function best with 7-9 hours of sleep. Teens and young adults generally require 8.5-9.5 hours per night.
- Avoid activities or habits that work against good sleep: avoid caffeine after 3-4 p.m., avoid strenuous exercise in the evening, and avoid stressful activities such as paying bills or emotional family discussions during the 2 hours prior to bedtime.
- Maximize your exposure to bright light in the morning and minimize your exposure to bright light in the evening. Bright light has a significant impact on timing and quality of sleep and alertness.
- Discuss concerns regarding medication side effects that involve sleep with your healthcare provider. Certain medications may cause daytime sleepiness or affect ability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night.
- Avoid using alcohol to help fall asleep. Alcohol may help hasten sleep onset but it also fragments or disrupts nighttime sleep.
- Learn how to recognize sleep problems in your life. For example, excessive daytime sleepiness can present with difficulty focusing or completing tasks, irritability, poor memory, and difficulty with brief “lapses” or micro-sleeps.
- Insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying sleep) is a common sleep problem that can occur due to many different factors. Discuss insomnia concerns with your healthcare provider and seek help from a sleep specialist if initial interventions do not help.
- Breathing problems such as loud habitual snoring, or gasp-like sounds during sleep may signal the presence of a sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is an important medical disorder that can be associated with a variety of other chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, stroke, chronic headache, and depression. This problem requires evaluation in a sleep center, followed by development of a treatment plan.
- Drowsiness while driving is a potentially life-threatening problem. Recognize and acknowledge your drowsiness, and avoid driving when you are sleep deprived or if you are experiencing drowsiness due to medication effects or a sleep disorder.
- If you or a family member is struggling with a chronic sleep problem, gather information by keeping a calendar or sleep log, and seek help by consulting with your primary care provider or a sleep specialist!
Merrill S. Wise, M.D. is a neurologist and Board-certified sleep medicine specialist affiliated with the Methodist Healthcare Sleep Disorders Center. All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice. Please call the Sleep Disorders Center for more information at 901.683.0044.