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Sleep Part I: How much should you sleep and why?
By Kendall Wisehart DPT, ATC

Whether you’re tired from pushups, striving for a fitness goal or just moving in general sleep is vital to human health and, simply put, necessary for life. It serves critical roles in brain functions including neurobehavioral, cognitive and safety-related performance, memory consolidation, mood regulation, nociception (the nervous system’s response to threatening stimuli), and the clearance of brain metabolites. Sleep is also involved in systemic physiology, including metabolism, appetite regulation, immune and hormone function, and cardiovascular systems. Sleep duration is associated with mortality risk and with illnesses ranging from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and depression.

With this information we have to ask ourselves the critical question: How much sleep is needed for optimal health?

A recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) analysis shows that between 1985 and 2012 mean sleep duration decreased and the percentage of adults sleeping < 6 hours in a 24-hour period increased. This trend represents a near doubling of U.S. adults sleeping < 6 hours in a 24-hour period from 38.6 million to 70.1 million. The CDC currently considers this progressive decline in sleep duration a public health epidemic.

In a follow up publication, the CDC recommends: to promote optimal health and well-being, adults aged 18-60 years are recommended to sleep at least 7 hours each night. Sleeping < 7 hours per night is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, frequent mental distress, and all-cause mortality. Insufficient sleep impairs cognitive performance, which can increase the likelihood of motor vehicle accidents, workplace accidents, medical errors, and loss of work productivity.

Healthy sleep duration in adults can be promoted by sleep health education and behavior changes, such as setting a pattern of going to bed at the same time each night and rising at the same time each morning; making sure that the bedroom environment is quiet, dark, relaxing and neither too hot or too cold; turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices, and distracting or light-emitting electronic devices from the bedroom; and avoiding large meals, nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine before bedtime. Insomnia symptoms, such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep can usually be resolved with improved sleep habits or psychological or behavioral therapies. Presently, no professional sleep organizations have issued consensus statements or recommendations about the efficacy or safety of either over-the-counter sleep aids for improving sleep duration in the general adult population. In addition, strategies to reduce risk associated with shift work and long work hours include designing better work schedules and observing the above habits. Keeping a 10-day journal or diary about sleep times, napping, and behaviors that affect sleep, such as exercise, alcohol use, and caffeine intake may be helpful.

The above information may be alarming to some. Understanding the importance and the benefits of sleep are the first steps to being healthier. For more information about “Why do we sleep?”, follow the link below for a TED talk from neuroscientist Russel Foster.

TED Talk Link: