Bedtime. Children fight it; adults long for it. Regardless of when we want or think we should sleep, carving out time to catch some Z’s is critical.
Coffee and energy drinks are quick remedies for the midday slump, but they are by no means a replacement for sleep. According to Dr. Andrew Githaiga of Sentara Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Specialists in Norfolk, that afternoon caffeine fix may actually do more harm than good when it comes time to get in bed.
Githaiga explains that a lack of sleep not only zaps our energy, but deprives our immune systems of time to recharge and allows toxic by-products of brain metabolism to build up and negatively impact our ability to focus and retain information.
“We are a sleep-deprived nation,” he says. “Most people sleep a lot less than they should because of the demands of work, family, etc. [The evidence] shows up in fatigue, difficulty concentrating, poor work performance, automobile crashes, lowered immunity and mood disturbances.”
To improve one’s sleep hygiene, Githaiga sheds light on the importance of sleep and best practices for making a good night’s rest a reality. He first discusses optimal sleep durations. As we age, our body’s demand for sleep evolves.
Infants ages five or younger need anywhere from 10 to 16 hours of sleep, including naps, so that their brains and bodies can properly and efficiently develop. The duration decreases to nine to 12 hours for children ages six to 12. Note that the demands of academics and after-school activities may place a child at the higher end of this range.
Ironically, teenagers tend to adopt an infant’s sleeping pattern, but their optimal sleep duration is only eight to 10 hours, which differs slightly from an adult’s seven to nine hours. Dr. Githaiga explains that teenagers’ tendency to sleep isn’t solely based on late night videogames or partying, but on their biology too.
“The biologic rhythm in teenagers shifts to one called a delayed sleep phase cycle in which they go to bed late and wake up late. It’s important to recognize that when your teenager says they have trouble falling asleep at 9:00 p.m., there’s some science behind it. Likewise, when they have a hard time getting up in the morning, it’s not just because they’re lazy,” he says.
Making time to get into bed for these durations is the first step to achieving better sleep quality. Getting to and staying asleep, however, poses the real challenge. Githaiga encourages those with sleep difficulties to honestly evaluate their sleep hygiene.
“You might have to keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks to get an objective assessment on how you’re doing,” he says. “Sometimes there may be another problem such as sleep apnea or insomnia that may need additional attention, and for which you need to see a medical provider.” —GS
Dr. Andrew Githaiga shares simpler measures as well to eliminate sleep deprivation and spread awareness about healthy sleep habits:
- Exercise (150+ minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week)
- Utilize your smartphone’s Do Not Disturb feature
- Instate a no electronics-rule for children at bedtime
- Be consistent with your bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends
- Ensure your sleep environment is cool, dark and quiet
- Resolve anxieties before bed by talking or journaling
- Have caffeine, alcohol or nicotine close to bedtime
- Take naps longer than 30 minutes
- Fall asleep in front of the TV
- Take sleeping pills as a long-term solution
- Go to bed unless you’re tired
- Stay in bed if you can’t sleep. Choose a calm, quiet activity instead.