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Why is Sleep Important?

Summary: 
Adults should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep. Here are five tips everyone can use to help improve the quality of their sleep.

“Sleepless in America” documentary logo.

Why is sleep important to you?  An estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults report less than seven hours of sleep during a typical 24 hour period.  Sleepiness resulting from insufficient sleep, irregular sleep schedules, or poor quality sleep is a cause of motor vehicle crashes, occupational errors with hazardous outcomes, and difficulty performing daily tasks.  Sleep and wakefulness disorders affect an estimated 15-20 percent of US adults who are more likely to suffer from chronic disorders including depression, substance abuse, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and all-cause mortality.  Resilience to stress, emotional regulation, and inter-personal relationships are impaired by sleep deficiency.  Recent findings suggest that investing in sleep health contributes to maintaining brain health, and ultimately protecting cognitive functions necessary for aging-in-place.  Recognizing and addressing sleep health issues presents opportunities for enhancing public health, and improving the well-being of all people.

Societal and health consequences of insufficient sleep are explored in “Sleepless in America” produced by National Geographic Channel in collaboration with The National Institutes of Health.  The documentary explains how research is changing our perception of sleep, sleepiness, and its importance to health.  The idea of “sleep” as a period when the brain simply shuts down has been replaced by an increasingly sophisticated understanding of how the rhythm of sleep and wakefulness is necessary for the biological function in every organ.   Not only does this daily “circadian” rhythm play an important role in learning and the filtering of memories in brain, but it also serves to regulate the energy level of most all cells.  Shortages of cellular energy eventually wear down natural defenses through oxidative stress and abnormalities in protein processing increasing the risk of disease.  Another NIH-funded study helped show that during sleep, a byproduct known as amyloid beta is cleared from the brain at a faster rate than when a person is awake.  Amyloid beta has been connected to Alzheimer’s disease.

What all of this adds up to is the idea that sleep should be considered just as important as eating right and getting enough exercise. Adults should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep, while teens need up to 9 hours a night. But getting good sleep goes beyond being in bed for a set number of hours. The quality and timing of sleep are two other important factors for getting proper rest each night. People who work the night shift may experience problems getting quality sleep.

Here are five tips everyone can use to help improve the quality of their sleep:

  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark
  • Put away/turn off all electronic devices while preparing for bedtime
  • Stick to a regular bedtime and wake time every day, even on weekends
  • Stop drinking caffeine by the early afternoon and avoid large late-night meals
  • Skip the late-afternoon nap, as it can make it harder to sleep at bedtime

The NIH has created a web page that brings sleep information from the many institutes that fund sleep-related research into one place. Learn more at http://www.nih.gov/health/NIHandSleeplessinAmerica/.

“Sleepless in America” airs on the National Geographic channel, and can also be viewed for free on YouTube.  

Tagged:
diabetes | sleep
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