Getting enough sleep may seem impossible with so few hours in a day, but it is more under your control than you might think. There are plenty of practices and habits that make for good sleep hygiene and will maximize the time you spend asleep.
Most adults should be getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, and when they don’t, it can lead to health problems like forgetfulness, difficulty fighting infections, mood swings and depression. Since sleep deprivation is becoming more common, it’s important to know how you can turn your bad sleep habits around and get good rest.
To celebrate National Sleep Awareness Week, we spoke with Dr. Zoran Danov, medical director of the Pediatric Sleep Program at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, to find out more about the positive effects that good sleep hygiene can have on day-to-day activities and improving overall health and happiness.
Does it help to fall asleep and wake up on a regular schedule?
Danov: Having a regular sleep schedule is very important for maintaining a sleep cycle and getting enough uninterrupted sleep. We should try whenever we can to wake up at the same time consistently regardless of whether it’s a weekend or a work/school day.
Why is it so important to get good sleep?
Danov: Sleep really is a necessary and important part of our daily lives. If you don’t get enough, it’s been shown to lead to changes in a person’s mood causing irritability, lack of motivation, anxiety and depression. Insufficient sleep can also directly influence your actions. For example, waking up without the right rest can be seriously dangerous. Drowsy driving can lead to an injury and possibly even death.
All the shortcomings of a lack of sleep are serious and can be improved only by regular and adequate sleep both in duration and quality.
What tips do you recommend for getting better sleep?
Danov: You’re going to want to have a regular schedule for bedtime, wake time and the meals throughout your days. Staying physically active is also important, but you won’t want to do any strenuous activity right before your desired bedtime. As for those habits right before bedtime, you should cut out the electronics an hour before trying to fall asleep, and caffeinated drinks five to six hours before. The bedroom should be kept dark and quiet, at a comfortable temperature.
How does napping factor into a good sleep routine?
Danov: Napping is a normal human behavior. Naps temporarily improve alertness and they can take the edge off sleepiness, but they do not replace sleep. It’s natural to want to nap usually between 2 and 5 p.m., when we often feel the sleepiest during the day. However, napping too long or too close to your desired sleep time may hurt the night’s sleep. You may not be getting enough sleep during the night if you need to take more than two naps per week.
How do eating habits affect sleep?
Danov: Regular and scheduled meals contribute to regular and quality sleep. Your sleep and diet are interconnected. Insufficient sleep has been associated with obesity and craving comfort foods. We should avoid going to bed hungry, but I wouldn’t recommend any heavy meals within three hours of going to sleep.
What habits may be contributing to poor-quality sleep?
Danov: Using electronics before going to bed and during the night is by far the most common habit that interferes with sleep. People feel the need to stay connected to the outside world and their friends even during sleep. Electronics break up our sleep by emitting light that disrupts our circadian rhythm directly, which is only going to keep you up longer. Interruptions like text messages and phone calls only contribute to sleep fragmentation and not getting quality sleep. Other bad sleep habits that are common are consuming caffeinated drinks close to bedtime and over-scheduling.