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How much sleep do we really need?

How much sleep do we really need?

Sleep is a very important indicator of our overall health and well-being. Regular sleep can improve immunity, lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity. But how much sleep is really needed for an adult? Current guidelines suggest this:

  • 18-25 years of age: 6-11 hours per night can be appropriate, with 7-9 hours recommended
  • 26-64 years of age: 6-10 hours per night can be appropriate, with 7-9 hours recommended
  • 65+ years of age: 5-9 hours per night can be appropriate, with 7-8 hours recommended

But of course, everyone is different! So instead of worrying about how many hours you get, the better question is, how do you feel after different amounts of sleep? Does six hours make you productive and happy? Do you need caffeine to get through the day? Do you feel sleepy while driving?  Do you have sleep problems, like trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Do you have any health issues?  

Improving Sleep

So how do you improve sleep if you are feeling tired on a regular basis? Just like diet and exercise, good sleep takes effort and routine.

  • Stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends. Don’t change your bedtime by more than an hour, if possible
  • Use a bedtime ritual to let your body and mind know it’s time to get sleepy
  • Exercise, whatever time of day works for you – studies show those who work out regularly sleep better and longer than those who don’t
  • Evaluate your bedroom – is it dark enough when you go to sleep? Cool enough? Quiet enough? Are the bed and pillows comfortable? Do you get enough light when you get up?
  • Beware of sleep stealers – alcohol and caffeine are the two biggest culprits
  • Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If this is absolutely not possible, utilize blue light eliminators such as screen protectors, glasses, or apps.
  • Napping is okay to catch up on lost rest (especially when ill) but keep it to 30 minutes or less and no more than two naps per day

Supplements and Medications

You’ve decided to try a supplement to help you sleep. But which one? Before you start, it’s always best to ask your primary care doctor to ensure any over-the-counter supplement is safe for you. Remember that supplements are NOT FDA regulated, so be careful if you are considering something like this.

  • Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body that signals time for sleep, and helps to regulate the circadian rhythm – it is best to take regularly around the same time at night every day, typically 3-10mg. These appear to be safe in short-term studies but not much is known about long-term safety.
  • Magnesium has been shown to improve sleep quality due to helping regulate production of melatonin.  However, excessive magnesium by mouth can cause diarrhea, so beware! Magnesium salt baths (Epsom salts) may be a good way to wind down at night and improve sleep.
  • Lavender is a soothing fragrance believed to enhance sleep, with studies showing lavender oil aromatherapy using 30 minutes before sleep can improve mild insomnia, especially in women and younger individuals.
  • Tryptophan is a supplement that has been shown, in some studies, to improve sleep quality and make you fall asleep faster – it is the same essential amino acid found in turkey that makes people feel sleepy.
  • Medications like ZzzQuil and Unisom use diphenhydramine, which is the same antihistamine medication in Benadryl. This causes the opposite effect in some, so be careful if Benadryl makes you jumpy! There is another version of Unisom that has the active ingredient doxylamine, which is the same antihistamine in NyQuil. Other medications, like Advil PM and Tylenol PM, combine Advil or Tylenol with diphenhydramine (again, the active ingredient in Benadryl). All of these should be used with caution, especially if used regularly, if you are older, or have any medical problems, as it can cause serious side effects. Definitely consult with your primary care physician before taking a medication like this to help you sleep on a regular basis.

More importantly, understanding WHY you cannot sleep is an important part of the solution. Sleep apnea, anxiety/depression, perimenopause and multiple other medical concerns can contribute to sleep difficulties.  Contact your Tryon Medical Partners physician today to start the path toward better sleep, better rest, and better health!