CHESTThought Leader BlogSleep: It Does a Body Good

Sleep: It Does a Body Good

Dr. Nancy Stewart (@nvhstewart)

Dr. Nancy Stewart

Sleep: it does a body good. No really, it does. When asked to write this month’s blog on sleep for Sleep Awareness Month, although honored, it was somewhat comical because the night prior I had one of my worst nights of sleep in a long time, taking care of a sick child. As health-care providers, we often lead stressful lives and pack way too much into our schedules. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend obtaining 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for adults; unfortunately, many of us are not getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

It is estimated as many as 70 million adults in the United States suffer from some type of sleep disorder, leading to either a shortened duration or increased wake time during the night, resulting in awakening unrested. The month of March is Sleep Awareness Month, and it’s important to highlight healthy sleep practices and how we can improve our sleep. Hopefully you’ll find a few of these tips helpful!

  1. Go to bed only when you are sleepy
    If you are not tired, getting in the bed can lead to frustration. It’s important to allow your mind to associate the bed and the bedroom with sleepiness and sleep. When you stay up and awake until you are sleepy, this will allow for your sleep drive to increase.
  2. Do not use your bed or bedroom for any activity other than sleep
    It’s not recommended that we read, watch tv, or eat in our bed or bedroom. The bed and bedroom should be used for two things: sleep and sexual activities. Being awake in the bedroom negatively reinforces the idea one should be awake in the bedroom, the exact opposite of what we are aiming for.
  3. Get out of bed if you cannot fall asleep or cannot stay asleep
    If you are unable to fall asleep within 10 minutes (or 15 to 20 minutes in persons over age 60 years old), get up and out of bed. Go find a quiet activity to do in another room to make you sleepy. If reading, use a dim light. Do not lay down in another room, on a couch, or attempt to sleep in a recliner. Once you are sleepy, return to the bedroom to lay down and fall asleep. Again, the goal is to associate the bedroom with sleep.
  4. Set a fixed wake time and use an alarm
    Regardless of how well or poor your sleep was the night prior, use an alarm to keep a consistent wake time. If your wake time is consistent, this will help set your internal circadian clock to keep a balanced sleep-wake cycle. As your tiredness increases during the daytime, this will increase your sleep pressure to fall asleep at night.
  5. Avoid naps
    Naps are like snacks. Avoid them. If you must nap, then nap ONLY in your bed. Again, this allows you to associate the bed with sleep.
  6. Avoid alcohol before bed
    Although these initially may have a sedative effect, there is a stimulant effect once the alcohol levels in the blood fall.
  7. Exercise regularly, but just not prior to bedtime
    Regular exercise is healthy for the body in many ways and but exercise just prior to bed can decrease the likelihood of falling asleep quickly.
  8. Keep your bedroom at a cool (not cold) temperature
    Keeping it too hot or too cold can decrease your ability to fall asleep.
  9. If you have concerns for your mental health, please see a professional to get evaluated and treated
    It is very difficult and often problematic to improve sleep difficulties if there are underlying mental health concerns, specifically anxiety and depression. Often difficult to treat anxiety or depression can manifest as insomnia.
  10. See a sleep medicine specialist if you suffer with sleep difficulties.
    Sleep is TOO valuable to your health to not get a good night of sleep each night!

The benefits of receiving healthy sleep require not only appropriate sleep timing, but also good quality sleep, adequate sleep duration, daily regularity of sleep, and the absence of sleep disorders. Although we may have heard many of these suggestions before, putting them in to action is where the difficulty rests (no pun intended). If you are having difficulty obtaining a good night of sound sleep, I encourage you to seek evaluation of a sleep medicine specialist. Undiagnosed sleep disorders can ultimately lead to detrimental health outcomes.

Further resources and recommendations on healthy sleep practices can be found in the following:

  1. Consensus Conference Panel, Watson NF, Badr MS, et al. Joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: methodology and discussion. Sleep. 2015;38(8):1161-1183.
  2. Mukherjee S, Patel SR, Kales SN, et al. (2015). An official American Thoracic Society statement: the importance of healthy sleep. Recommendations and future priorities. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2015;191(12):1450-1458.
  3. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep education. Accessed March 19, 2019.
  4. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. National healthy sleep awareness project. Accessed March 19, 2019.