How Sleep Impacts Health

This weekend, Daylight Savings Time ended and we all set our clocks back an hour. For most people, this usually means a magical extra hour of badly needed sleep (with the unfortunate tradeoff of the sun setting at 5 o’clock). Experts recommend most adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but many of us are clocking less than that. Between kids, work, and screen time, almost half of adults aren’t getting enough quality sleep. And that can be bad for our health in a variety of ways.

Health Effects of Too Little Sleep

When we are asleep, our bodies are actually hard at work. Your brain is busy processing all the events of the day and reorganizing memories. Your body is repairing itself, too. Without enough sleep, these processes are impaired. If this happens every once in a while, your body can compensate. But regular lack of sleep can lead to health problems.
Short-Term Effects: difficulty concentrating, irritability, slowed reaction times (which can contribute to car crashes), reduced immune function, changes in sugar metabolism, and lack of motivation to exercise.
Long-Term Effects: Increased risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and premature death and impaired memory.

sleep duration recommendations by age

How Lifestyle Impacts Sleep

What you do while awake can affect your sleep. Being physically active can make it easier to fall asleep and you sleep more soundly. Regular physical activity is more effective at helping you sleep well than just one workout. Eating a balanced, MyPlate-style diet is good for overall health as well as healthy sleep patterns. Too much caffeine and alcohol can disrupt your sleep, so limit alcohol before bedtime and stop drinking caffeine at least 6 hours before bed.

Bedtime Routines for Better Sleep

Just like kids sleep better when they have a consistent schedule, so do adults. Here are a few ideas of how to wind down in the evenings to get a good night’s sleep.

  • Turn off screens at least an hour before bed. Too much blue light from electronics makes it harder to fall asleep. Very engaging entertainment, like video games, action-packed or suspenseful TV shows or movies, can make it hard for your brain to slow down and get ready to sleep. Try reading a (paper) book or straightening up the house, or another light, calming activity.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Just like kids, a set schedule makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up. Your body will get used to the schedule and you’ll feel ready to go to bed as your bedtime approaches.
    Keep your bedroom a little cooler. It’s easier to fall asleep when the room temperature is slightly cooler. Your body temperature naturally drops while sleeping, so you’re giving it a head start with a cooler room.
  • Use your bedroom just for sleeping. Watching TV, snacking, etc. in your bedroom makes your brain associate the bedroom with activities other than sleeping. Reserve your bedroom just for sleeping and your brain will know that when you get in bed, it’s time to sleep.

Sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, just as important as eating smart and moving more. When you’re well-rested, you feel better and are more productive. It makes it easier to be physically active and cook healthy meals for your family. For the next few weeks, take advantage of the time change to develop a good sleeping routine.

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