Monday Medical: Simple tips to help improve your sleep

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Can’t sleep? You’re not alone.

If you have trouble going to sleep or you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, you’re in good company.

The good news is that most people can overcome challenges, improve their sleep and feel much more rested and healthy.

Dr. Katherine Green, medical director of the Sleep Center at UCHealth Sleep Medicine Clinic on the Anschutz Medical Campus, shares information about sleep, why it’s important and how to improve your sleep, below.

Why is a good night’s sleep so important?

“There’s growing evidence showing that both sleep quality and quantity have far-reaching effects on everything from driving safety, to daytime energy levels, to focus, attention, job performance and even things like mood,” Green said. “People who don’t get enough sleep can be more irritable and more prone to depression and anxiety.”

Is it true that lack of sleep can cause serious health problems including obesity, strokes, heart disease and heart attacks?

Yes, studies show that insufficient sleep can affect systems throughout the body.

“Poor sleep affects systems that regulate your metabolism. It can cause increased predisposition to things like obesity and diabetes and even long-term cardiovascular health effects, like an increased risk of hypertension, strokes and heart attacks,” Green said. “It can also cause long-term memory impairment or early cognitive decline.”

Some people claim they don’t need much sleep. Is it true that some people can get by with as little as four hours of sleep a night?

No. Adults need about seven hours of sleep a night, Green said.

“Study after study has shown that in order to be our best selves, in order to function at your top performance level, the vast majority of adults really need a seven-hour night of sleep,” Green said. “What we see is that these health effects, these performance effects really start to creep in if you’re getting fewer than seven hours of sleep a night.”

Are naps healthy?

Short naps of between 10 and 30 minutes can be great. But, Green advises people to avoid really long naps.

“Strategic napping is something that can be very helpful at improving your productivity and focus. There have been good studies showing that people have an increase in their mental acuity after taking a short nap,” Green said.

Napping for too long can leave people feeling groggy and can disrupt healthy sleep patterns.

Is there such a thing as getting too much sleep?

Yes, it’s possible for some people to sleep for too many hours.

“If you are requiring more than eight to nine hours of sleep at night, that may be a sign of some underlying sleep problem,” Green said. “If you have sleep apnea and you are never rested by the sleep that you are getting, then you can sleep for 10 or 11 hours, but you’re not getting the quality of sleep that you need.”

What are the top 5 simple tips to help you sleep better?

  • Establish a routine and stay consistent. In general, go to sleep and wake up every day at about the same time, even on weekends.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Watch your caffeine intake, and avoid caffeine after noon.
  • Unplug from your devices at least 30-minutes to an hour before bedtime. Blue light from devices stimulates us to stay awake.
  • Get outside and expose yourself to sunlight every day. You’ll sleep better if you have a healthy internal body clock. Exposing yourself to sunlight helps prepare your brain for sleep at the appropriate time.
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