“How much sleep do I need?” is not easily answered. As we spend an average of one third of our life asleep, it is an important healthy life activity. There are multiple factors that influence our sleep including our personal sleep needs, underlying disease considerations, personal habits and bedroom environments. As we mature, our sleep duration needs diminish over time.
The National Sleep Foundation has recently updated their suggestions of sleep times:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
- School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours (unchanged)
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours (new age category)
Pay attention to how you feel after a “good” night’s sleep versus a poor one. What is your attitude, mood and energy? How long has it been since a good night’s sleep? You are probably fine if you are healthy, happy, alert and productive whatever your present sleep pattern. However, if it has been awhile or you just can’t remember when you last good sleep has been, you may want to examine your barriers to sleep.
- Maintain a schedule of bedtime and awakening times, even on weekends.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual such as reading, deep breathing, visual imagery, or meditation.
- Daily exercise will help assure improved sleep.
- A comfortable, quiet and dark bedroom is essential. Remember the bedroom is for sleep.
- Do not watch TV or work on your computer in the bedroom. Go somewhere else in the house.
- Even limited amounts of caffeine or alcohol can impair restorative sleep. Stop either or both.
Poor sleep patterns may also a sign of underlying health problems. Anxiety and depression very commonly will negatively affect sleep patterns presenting as insomnia or excessive sleepiness. Frequent awakening to use the bathroom may be an issue as well. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is becoming a more frequent finding as we learn to screen for it. OSA is caused by a temporary collapse of the airway which prevents a breath from being completed. Every time this happens, most individuals will “almost” wake up, and occasionally completely wake up. As this may occur as often as every few minutes through the course of sleep, most will awaken unrested and fatigued. The Sleep Apnea Foundation estimates that there are 22 million with OSA, and over 80% are undiagnosed. Untreated, those individuals likely can lose eight to ten years of life expectancy.
There are a number of over-the-counter sleep aids available. For infrequent or temporary use, most may be an appropriate treatment for occasional sleep problems. If you have consistent problems with sleep, please consult your health care professional, as there may be more than meets the eye.
Bradford Croft, DO / East Flagstaff Family Medicine