Ask The Expert:
I try to go to bed early, but I find myself staying up late working or Netflixing. How much sleep do I really need? And how much of an impact does it have on my overall health?
To complete all of the routine tasks and fun activities of our day, we need adequate, quality sleep to keep our brains functioning properly, says Myesha Thompson, CHES, a YMCA healthy living coach and an adjunct instructor of allied health.
The average healthy adult should get 8 hours of sleep. Some need up to 10 hours, Thompson says.
“It may sound like a lot or even unnecessary, but sleep is an essential function our body needs to repair and reset,” she says. “While we’re asleep, our breathing slows, our heart rate decreases, our temperature drops, and our organs work to repair themselves from a full day’s work and prepare themselves for the next.”
Adequate sleep contributes to good overall health.
“Without adequate sleep, we can’t think properly, we are mentally and physically weak, our immune system weakens, our heart is negatively impacted, we increase the likelihood of developing chronic conditions, as well as increasing our chance of being in an accident,” Thompson says. “Plus, our bodies naturally burn fat while we’re sleeping, so it’s important to get an adequate amount of it.”
Here are Thompson’s top five tips to improve sleep quality.
1. Avoid caffeine two hours before your bedtime.
“Caffeine is a stimulant and temporarily blocks sleep inducing chemicals in the brain.”
2. Engage in at least 30 minutes of daily exercise.
“The fatigue post exercise can cause a decrease in body temperature promoting the feeling of being sleepy.”
3. Keep a sleep cycle even on weekends.
“Set a bedtime that allows you to get at least eighthours of sleep before you have to wake up the next day. If work or household tasks keep you up past the original time, set a bedtime that falls within 15 minutes of the night before. If you are doing any work, set a stop time and stick to it.”
4. Customize a sleep-friendly environment.
“Get creative! Experiment with dim to no lighting, and little to no noise—usually calming nature sounds or the humming of a fan can do the trick. Also, treat yourself to comfy bedding.”
5. Avoid screens at bedtime.
“Try reading a book instead or listening to relaxing music. Don’t use devices after a certain time. The blue light coming from devices such as phones, tablets and TVs suppresses the pineal gland that makes melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep cycles. Make the bedroom a tech-free zone, or at least sit your phone across the room to avoid constantly checking it.”