Feel like you’re not getting enough sleep? You’re not alone. According to the American Sleep Association 35% of adults are not getting enough sleep and 40% of Americans report having episodic or chronic insomnia. Many things can affect our ability to get good sleep, from a teething toddler to insomnia. While it’s always a good idea to get checked out by your primary care provider for any medical problems, there are also several things you can do to promote better sleep.
How much sleep should you get? Many people may not even realize they’re not getting enough sleep. Here’s what the American Sleep Association recommends for sleep.
Adults: 7-9 hours of sleep
Teens: 8-10 hours of sleep
Children 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours of sleep
Children 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours of sleep (including naps)
Children 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours of sleep (including naps)
Infants 4-12 months: 12-16 hours of sleep (including naps)
What if I can’t get more sleep? “Catch up sleep”, where you sleep an extra hour or two on the weekend, may be beneficial for people who can’t seem to get enough sleep during the week. Grabbing a few extra hours of sleep a couple of days a week may help to reduce our “sleep debt”, the difference between the amount of sleep that you need and the amount you actually get. This sleep debt can lead to foggy brain, trouble with memory and long term effects can include obesity and heart disease. A study published in the journal Sleep (May 2017) identified a relationship between a lower BMI (body mass index) and weekend “catch up sleep”. They concluded that getting a few extra hours of sleep two days per week may aid in preventing sleep-restriction induced or related obesity. However, other experts argue that “catch up sleep” just 2 days a week isn’t enough. They recommend trying to repay some the sleep debt by increasing the amount of sleep you get each night until you get back into a natural sleep cycle, waking without the use of an alarm.
Here are 7 Tips to promote good sleep and combat insomnia:
- Try to establish a routine. Go to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time. This helps to train your body and brain when it’s time to sleep. Starting a “bedtime routine” may be helpful. If it’s good for the kids… why not you? Take some time to wind down before trying to sleep. Turn off the T.V., put away your cell phone, take a hot shower or read a book.
- Get rid of distractions. While it may sound obvious, your sleeping space should be dark and quiet. Turn off the T.V. and eliminate other distractions. Use a fan or white noise machine to mask other noises if needed.
- Shut off your screens. Cell phones and tablets disrupt sleep in several different ways. Beeping and vibration alerts can disrupt sleep but studies also show that the blue light from devices and T.V.s can disrupt your sleep/wake cycle. Checking emails or Facebook also helps to keep your brain alert. So stay off your phone while you’re trying to fall asleep.
- Shut off your brain. Relaxation exercises or meditation can help to quiet your thoughts. Try some deep breathing, count to five as you breathe in, hold for 2, and count to five as you breathe out. Breathe from your diaphragm-“belly breathing”. You should see your stomach rise and fall. If late night worry keeps you up, try dedicating 30 minutes earlier in day or evening to your worry. Make lists, problem solve, etc. Then put it away, literally and/or figuratively.
- Watch your caffeine. If you love your diet Coke or sweet tea, either reduce the amount your drinking or stop drinking caffeine at least 6 hours before you go to bed.
- Avoid large meals. Try not to eat a large meal right before going to bed.
- Follow the 30 minute rule. If after 30 minutes you’re still awake, go to another room and sit or do some quiet, relaxing activity like reading or knitting. After 20-30 minutes, return to bed.
Written by Anneke Gustafson, Behavioral Health Consultant
- American Sleep Association. Sleep and Sleep Disorder Statistics.
- National Sleep Foundation. Scary Ways Technology Affects Your Sleep.
- Webster, M. (May 6, 2008) Can You Catch Up on Lost Sleep? Scientific American.