Sleep and Your Health

By BobbieJo Paul for ATI Physical Therapy

Are you thinking about how you’re making healthy choices?  Did you know having enough good sleep is also an important piece of getting and staying healthy?  WellnessSleep and Your Health exams usually focus on diet, exercise and immunizations, but don’t forget they also include a discussion about sleep.  Are you one of the 25 percent of adults in the US that does not sleep well 15 out of 30 nights?

Lack of sleep can cause many physical symptoms, but there can be other issues going on that you may or may not notice.  Are you having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep or feeling tired when you get up?  Perhaps you wake to loud snoring, gasping for air or have pain in your legs. You may find it difficult to stay awake at work or while driving.  Perhaps you are quick to become frustrated or irritated, making it difficult to get along with others.  Concentration and impulse control can also be diminished with reduced quality of sleep.  Lack of sleep can even put you at risk for becoming sick more often since catching a cold becomes easier.  Other health issues that a person with lack of sleep may experience include difficulty with losing weight or maintaining ideal weight, developing elevated blood pressure, and having an increased risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

Issues trying to get a good night’s sleep can be from bad habits, the environment or due to some health issues.  Bad habits include not going to bed at the same time each night, reading or watching TV in bed, being on the computer before bed, having caffeine, smoking, drinking alcohol or using other drugs. The environment may not be conducive to good sleep because of shift work, travel to different time zones, or lighting issues.  Health concerns that affect sleep can include stress, chronic pain, some medications, sleep apnea and insomnia.

You can take small steps to improve your quality of sleep.  If you already exercise, you should exercise earlier in the day.  If you do not exercise already, start an exercise program that you enjoy.  Stay away from caffeine late in the day; avoid coffee, tea, and soda.  If you nap during the day limit the nap to one and make it no longer than 20 minutes.  If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.  This means maximum one drink for women and two for men, per day.  Do not eat a large meal before bed and quit smoking.  Make sure that your bedroom is quiet, dark and does not have electronic devices.  Go to bed at the same time every night and use relaxation techniques to help reduce stress.  Don’t use electronics with blue screens 2 hours before you want to go to sleep.

If you find that you’re trying the techniques for improved sleep but you’re still having issues getting a good night’s sleep, keep a sleep diary.  See your health care provider if you are having issues with sleep that affect your daily life.  It is important to report issues with snoring or if your partner has noticed you stop breathing while you sleep.  For your health and safety, take your sleep health seriously.