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Why You Need More Sleep

(No yawning, please!)

How much sleep did you get last night? Would you say it was enough? Does it seem like there is never enough time for the full eight hours or do you swear you can get by just fine on five or six? According to the National Sleep Foundation, 63 percent of Americans routinely do not get adequate sleep-and as a result, are depleting energy, performance levels, health, and even personal relationships.

Unfortunately, we might be depriving ourselves of sleep and not even know it. Humans can function on less sleep than needed but consequently live life in a continual state of sleep deprivation. "Many people are so used to not getting enough sleep, they don't even realize how much better they would feel if they slept more on a regular basis," said James K. Walsh, PhD, Executive Director and Senior Scientist at the Sleep Medicine and Research Center located at St. Luke's Hospital and current National Sleep Foundation (NSF) president.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many Americans obtain inadequate sleep during the week, then try to make up for it with extra sleep on the weekends. The problem is, with inadequate sleep during the week, concentration levels and response times lapse, productivity wanes and we don't have energy or extra time for personal relationships.

The NSF found that one in five adults is so sleepy during the day that it interferes with daily activities at least a few days a week. Two thirds of those individuals say they are very likely to accept their sleepiness and keep going. The NSF also found that adults are working more and sleeping less than they did five years ago and link sleepiness with lower marital satisfaction and intimacy as well as less involvement in leisure and social activities.

Clearly, the amount of sleep you obtain directly impacts the quality of your life. So, now is the time to reassess your sleep situation. Imagine being alert, productive, happy and at the "top of your game" each day. Read on and ask yourself if you need to make a change.

How Much is Enough?
According to the NIH, each person needs a particular amount of sleep in order to be fully alert each day. For most healthy adults, the average is seven and a half to eight and a half hours a night. Sound like a lot? We are so used to getting less sleep than required that eight hours sounds like a luxury-not a necessity. In addition, adolescent children may need nine or more hours and young children can sleep 12-14 hours a night.

"If you become sleepy when watching television, driving a car, reading or listening to a lecture you either are not getting adequate sleep or you may have a sleep disorder," said Walsh. "Those situations do not cause sleepiness, they uncover sleepiness.

Despite contrary beliefs, older adults do not need less sleep than they did when they were younger, they just get less of it. Older adults are more easily awakened by light, noise and pain. They may have medical problems that contribute to sleep problems and, because of biological changes, tend to be more tired and nap during the daytime. Older adults, just as much as younger adults, should try to maintain a sleep schedule.

What About Naps?
Taking an occasional short nap (30-60 minutes) to catch up on needed sleep can actually be beneficial to the body, replenishing some of the sleep it needs and raising awareness and concentration levels. Get the recommended amount of sleep at night whenever possible and nap to make up for those nights you cannot sleep enough.

But I'm Still Tired!
Are you getting eight or more hours of sleep a night but still don't feel rested in the morning? If so, you may have a sleep disorder. The NIH reports that approximately 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome (RLS). If you have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep or waking too early, experience snoring or breathing problems that wake you up in the night or fall asleep in uncommon situations, you should consult your physician.

Make the Commitment
If you have determined that you need more sleep but are in a pattern of depriving yourself, make a commitment to yourself to get more ZZZs. Follow the steps below provided by St. Luke's Hospital, the NIH and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (and find your own unique methods!) to make sleep a priority.
  1. Schedule Sleep for Preventive Health
    Begin thinking of sleep as a health issue. You probably don't ignore doctor appointments and teeth cleanings-don't ignore sleep as a preventive health measure either. Schedule your sleep hours and stick to them.
  2. Take It One Step at a Time
    Take a step-by-step approach to ease yourself into a new bedtime. Begin by going to bed 15 minutes earlier than your regular time. Be consistent and continue for a few nights. Once you have conquered the 15-minute improvement, take another step by moving it 15 minutes more. Continue until you reach your goal bedtime. Maintain your schedule on weekends or days off.
  3. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
    Don't work against your own good night's sleep. Follow good "sleep hygiene" practices such as refraining from caffeine, alcohol and large meals four hours before bedtime. Exercise regularly but do not engage in strenuous exercise close to bedtime.
  4. Set the Mood
    Ensure your bedroom is fairly dark, cool and quiet if possible. Set up a bedtime ritual such as reading or taking a warm bath and use your bedroom only for sleep and intimacy.
  5. Talk to your Doctor
    Take sleep seriously and talk to your doctor if you believe you have a sleep problem.
For more information on how sleep affects your health, call your family physician or contact St. Luke's Physician Referral Service at 314-205-6060 or 888-205-6556.