By: Jennifer A. King, MD – King Integrative Primary Care
We all know how important diet and exercise are for a healthy life but what about sleep? Isn’t sleep a sign of weakness? Aren’t we supposed to be able to work all the time now that we are connected to our offices by computers and phones 24/7?
The answer is yes, sleep is crucial to our health and many physicians and researchers believe sleep may be more important to our health than either diet or exercise. The recommended amount of sleep is 7-8 hours per night but Americans average only 6.8 hours of sleep per night and this lack of sleep is extremely detrimental to our health. Going without sleep for only 24-48 hours causes increased levels of stress hormones, elevated blood pressure, decreased ability to process glucose and a weakened immune system. Chronic lack of sleep increases your risk of diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and premature death, inhibits your ability to maintain proper weight and can cause early cognitive decline and depression. It was recently reported that the operator of the Metro-North train that derailed in New York last year, killing 4 people and injuring more than 70, fell asleep at the wheel. He had undiagnosed sleep apnea.
The best way to determine if you’re getting the right amount of sleep, is to find out how many hours of sleep you need to be able to wake up without an alarm, and feel rested, refreshed and energetic throughout the day.
Some tips to improve sleep are:
- Turn off all electronics 1 hour before bedtime
- No electronics in the bedroom
- Lower the lights 2 hours before bedtime
- Have a regular bedtime and awakening time
- Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark
- No food or drink 2 hours before bedtime
If you have tried these lifestyle changes and your sleep has not improved talk with your physician and consider trying an herbal sleep remedy, having a sleep study (this can be done in your own home) or seeing a sleep specialist. This can be the most important change you make to improve your health.