By Christine Zellers, MPP, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences
Sleep is becoming more and more fleeting for American’s as stress and worry contribute to tossing and turning during the night hours. Americans suffer from sleep disorders and general sleep loss and this could take a toll on overall health. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression and anxiety have been shown to have a correlation with sleep problems and disorders however the link between lack of sleep and these diseases is not proven due to what could be underlying behavioral or hereditary factors. Getting a good night’s sleep at very least makes a person feel better the next day but doing that is easier said than done sometimes.
There is not an exact amount of sleep recommended however, most adults need 7-9 hours per night. Babies sleep a lot because they are growing and developing, and they might sleep 16-18 hours per day. School aged children need about 9.5 hours per night they too are growing and developing but not as much as babies. Older adults sleep less, sometimes due to certain medications but usually after age 60 sleep becomes shorter and more interrupted by waking and even a lighter sleep.
Small lifestyle changes are an easy way to get more sleep and improve health. Start by taking steps to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. Make sure to exercise every day, the recommendation for exercise for adults is 150 minutes per week and 2 additional days that include strength training. Consider not exercising 2-3 hours before bed to avoid restlessness. Caffeine can prevent a person from sleeping too so cutting back on coffee, sodas and energy drinks may make sleeping well easier. Avoid caffeine especially 2-3 hours before bed. Like Caffeine, Nicotine is a stimulant and can prevent good sleep patterns. When a smoker has a craving or urge to smoke it is the addiction to nicotine causing them to be anxious and this sometimes wakes nicotine users up in the night. Consider quitting, the State of NJ has free smoking cessation programs throughout the state. Alcohol interferes with sleep stages and cutting back on this too may produce better sleep. The dietary guidelines for Americans recommend women consume only one drink per day and men two at most. Although alcohol is a depressant it can become a stimulant and act to suppress sleep. It is best to not drink too much and too close to bed to get a good night’s sleep.
During waking hours try to find a way to destress using meditation, yoga, exercise, or a hobby. Stress can cause short-term or long-term sleeplessness so try managing stress. Unplug during the day and especially before bed to decrease extra brain activity just before bed. Avoid overeating all day but especially close to bed when your digestion may interfere with a sound sleep. Finally, if nothing else is working lying awake can be tortuous so get up and read a book or take a warm bath and do something to relax to encourage sleep. All lifestyle changes are difficult but getting a good night’s sleep is a reward for overall better health.