Magazine articles, TV shows and the Internet remind us on a daily basis that we need to watch what we eat and engage in activities to feel better mentally and physically. But there's something else we need that is often overlooked.
A good night's sleep is one of the most underrated aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Research has shown that sleep can help:
- Improve memory
- Boost energy levels
- Reduce stress
- Regulate moods
- Battle obesity
- Strengthen immune system
- Decrease risks for cardiovascular diseases
"If you sleep better at night, you'll notice how more active you feel in the morning and throughout the day," says Angel Rodis, MD. "Your body needs to have complete rest during sleep. If not, it could increase stress to the heart and elevate blood pressure and hypertension during the daytime."
How much sleep do we need during the night?
While studies have shown that adults typically require seven to eight hours of sleep, Dr. Rodis says that quality of sleep is more important than quantity.
"The definition of 'good sleep' is getting enough sleep so you feel better and act more effective the next day," he says. "It's different for each person; some require more, while others can do with less. A person who is sound asleep for five hours will feel much better than someone who is tossing and turning in bed for eight hours."
Quality of sleep can be difficult to achieve as we become older. Our sleep patterns at night can be challenged by frequent pains, trips to the bathroom, stress, interruptions from children or certain medical problems.
Tips to enjoy a good night's sleep
Everyone has the occasional sleepless night, and this is not a problem for most people. But if a trend of difficult sleep arises, then you need to take some measures to help improve your nighttime sleep habits. Here are some helpful tips:
- Avoid emotional upset or stressful situations before bedtime.
- Avoid using alcohol in the evening.
- Avoid caffeine for at least eight hours before bedtime.
- Give up smoking, because nicotine is a stimulant.
- Establish a regular bedtime, but don't go to bed if you feel wide awake.
- Exercise regularly, but not in the last 2 hours before going to bed. Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has been shown to make people fall asleep faster and get deeper and more restful sleep.
- Relax by reading, taking a bath, or listening to soothing music before going to bed.
- Take your TV or computer out of your bedroom. Otherwise, your brain becomes used to the stimulation and starts to expect it when you are there. This makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
- Use the bedroom for bedroom activities only. Once in bed, use creative imagery and relaxation techniques to keep your mind off unrestful thoughts. Avoid staying in bed for long periods of time while awake, or going to bed because of boredom.
Dr. Rodis cautions using over-the-counter sleep aids to help you escape to dreamland: "Those medications are antihistamines that mask problems. They act as temporary band aids and are not helpful for chronic conditions. It is best to receive direction from your doctor."
Virtua can help your sleeping troubles
Virtua's Sleep Centers in Mt. Holly, Voorhees and Washington Township offer medical evaluation and a full range of diagnostic testing, including sleep studies that measure heart rate, brain waves, breathing, eye and muscle movements, and oxygen levels. Virtua also offers a Pediatric Sleep Lab, in partnership with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in Voorhees.