Parents often use bedtime stories and other peaceful rituals to lull their children to sleep. Often the ritual helps moms and dads prepare for sleep as well. No matter your age, maximizing sleep should become your routine.
We often forego sleep for other priorities. In fact, in 2012 the Centers for Disease Control reported that more than one-third of Americans consider themselves “sleep deprived.” What’s more, the CDC now calls America’s insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.
Missing out on sleep may not seem like a big deal in the moment, but studies have shown that continuous restless nights have many consequences. According to a study released by the Mayo Clinic in March, sleep deprivation can escalate night-time blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Other studies have linked sleep deprivation to diabetes, obesity, memory loss, accidental injury, depression, and poor performance at work or school.
Some of the biggest sleep “offenders” include new parents and stressed-out adults, but teenagers and children report sleep problems regularly, too. Recently, the National Sleep Foundation updated its recommendations for sleep based on age group. It’s important to set yourself up for success by making this amount of sleep a priority. Here are their recommendations.
• Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
• Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
• Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
• Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
• School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
• Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
• Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
• Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
SOURCES OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
A stressful life can lead to fitful sleep. If you are extra tense at work or school, your body is in overdrive, causing the inability to sleep deeply. In addition to setting a pre-sleep routine, overall stress reduction techniques like meditation and exercise are important additions to your life.
Unwholesome choices can lead to unhealthy sleep. Caffeine and certain foods can have an impact on your sleep. Studies have shown that diets rich in fat and calories impact weight, thus impacting sleep. Work to make healthful dietary choices.
If baby doesn’t sleep, nobody sleeps. Being a new parent is often synonymous with lack of sleep. Newborns wake up every few hours and function with short sleep cycles, making it difficult for moms and dads to get the proper amount of sleep at night. It’s important to sleep when you can and take turns caring for the baby when possible. If you’re able, arrange for someone to watch your little one periodically so that you can rest.
Odd hours can leave you feeling off. If you work night shift or odd hours, sleep can be hard to come by. If you must sleep during the day, use black-out curtains to imitate night-time conditions. And, most importantly, even though your hours are different, stick to a routine as much as possible.
TIPS FOR FALLING ASLEEP
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, simply aiming to get more sleep doesn’t always solve the problem. Preparing for a restful night can often help everyone in the family. Here are a few tips:
• Plan bed times to be the same time nightly. A set schedule can synchronize the body.
• Turn off cell phones, video games, and televisions at least 30 minutes before bed time. This is especially important for children, who need extra time to wind down before bed.
• Dim the lights in your room and reduce other distractions. Make sure each bedroom in your household is a relaxing sanctuary.
• If a bath is calming to you or your child, take one prior to bed time to help undo the stress of the day.
• Reading a soothing book is also a good way to slow down your mind, no matter your age.
• Reduce the amount of caffeine that you drink daily. For best sleep, cut all caffeine from your diet at least four hours prior to bed. Don’t forget that chocolate has caffeine in it.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP
If simple changes like these don’t create a good night’s sleep for your family, your sleep concerns may warrant a doctor’s appointment.
About one in five children and about 18 million adults suffer from sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing continuously stops and restarts throughout the night. Symptoms can include snoring, episodes of breathing cessation when sleeping, dry mouth, sore throat, and excessive daytime sleepiness. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to other problems, such as sleep walking, attention problems, and behavioral changes.
Sleep can also be disturbed by other conditions such as insomnia, sleep walking, and restless leg syndrome. A sleep study by a board-certified sleep physician can assess both children and adults who show signs of sleep deprivation. Overnight sleep studies are available for children ages 5-16 with parental supervision. Both adult and pediatric sleep studies require a referral from a primary care physician.
Sleep isn’t something you should deprive your body of, but it’s never too late to get on track to a good night’s sleep. So take this advice from a sleep specialist, and make maximizing sleep a habit for your family starting tonight.
Dr. Vandana Dhawan is an internal medicine and sleep specialist with Bayview Physicians Group and the medical director of Chesapeake Regional’s Sleep Center. The center offers pediatric and adult sleep studies by physician referral. To learn more, call 757-312-6565 or visit www.chesapeakeregional.com.