Sleep is more important than you may think.
Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. However, in our society, many adults are chronically sleep deprived by not giving themselves enough sleep opportunity (the amount of time that you are physically in bed from the time your head hits the pillow to when you get up for the morning). If you go to bed at 10:00 PM and wake up at 6:00 AM, you have given yourself 8 hours of sleep opportunity. However, nobody sleeps for the full 8 hours. A person who is a “good sleeper” will sleep about 95% of the sleep opportunity time (this is the sleep efficiency). So, in this example, a person who has 95% sleep efficiency would be asleep for 7 hours and 36 minutes. This means that they are not asleep for 24 minutes out of that 8-hour time frame—which is pretty normal.
The sleep latency is the time from the head hitting the pillow to getting into the first stage of sleep (ie falling asleep). Most people have a sleep latency of 5 to 20 minutes. If someone has a sleep latency of less than 5 minutes, typically this means that they are chronically sleep deprived. Chronic sleep deprivation can come from many sources such as medical problems, medications, stressors, family or work obligations and social situations. Taking longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep usually means there is some form of insomnia. There are multiple reasons for insomnia as well.
Multiple awakenings at night are also a significant problem and can cut down on total sleep time. As above, there are many things that can interfere with sleeping through the night.
Tips for better sleeping:
1. Give yourself enough sleep opportunity. If you go to bed at 12 midnight and get up a 6 AM…guess what…you will sleep for less than 6 hours. This is not enough sleep.
2. Sleep hygiene is very important
a. Have a set bed time and set wake time—try to maintain this both weekdays and weekends.
b. Have a routine before bedtime
c. Turn lights lower as bedtime gets closer
d. Minimize or eliminate electronics 2 hours prior to bedtime
e. Only use the bed for sleep and sex. Don’t watch TV, use your phone or read in bed. Do those things prior to getting into bed
f. If you can’t fall asleep within 20-30 min of trying to go to bed, get up, do something that does not activate your brain (such as electronics). Read something for a little bit—once you feel sleepy again, get back into bed and try sleeping again. This also applies if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.
3. Caffeine consumption, even in the morning, can disrupt sleep at night. So maybe cut back a bit if you have problems sleeping
4. Alcohol consumption in the evening disrupts sleep stages. Even if you are asleep for 8 hours after drinking, those 8 hours are of poorer quality.
5. Studies have shown that setting your thermostat a few degrees cooler at night can help with sleep quality.
If you are interested in learning more about sleep, I would highly recommend reading a book called “Why We Sleep” by Dr. Matthew Walker.
Brent Holmquist, MD
Good Life Medicine DPC