The Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep: we know it’s important, most of us need more of it, yet it’s often the first thing we sacrifice when life gets hectic. There’s always one more chore to be done before you hit the sack, or another work deadline looming. Or maybe you worry that with school and sports, your kids aren’t getting enough sleep. Consistently short-changing yourself when it comes to sleep can hurt you in more ways than one. Research shows that chronic lack of sleep is linked to colds and flu, diabetes, heart disease, and mental health.

But how much sleep is enough? And how do you make sure that everyone in your house gets a good night’s rest?

Why sleep is so important
Just like a healthy diet and exercise, sleep is critical for children to stay healthy, grow, learn, do well in school, and function at their best. The primary consequences of poor sleep among children and adolescents are behavior problems, impaired learning, mood and emotional problems, and health risks including obesity, according to the National Sleep Foundation. A recent study found that preschool children who napped performed significantly better on a visual-spatial task than those who did not nap.

Sleep needs vary by age. Infants and toddlers typically require about 12-15 hours of sleep per 24 hours (including naps and nighttime sleep). Children ages 3-10 need about 10-13 hours a night, and teens need about 9 hours. The average adult functions best on 7-9 hours of sleep a night.

Getting sufficient sleep not only helps you feel better, but it helps your body function better when you’re awake. Sleep lowers stress and boosts your mood, helps you maintain a healthy weight, improves athletic performance and coordination, and increases your ability to pay attention and retain new information.

Quality of sleep counts as much as quantity
It’s not just a matter of getting enough sleep, however. The quality of your sleep is important, too. Anyone who has ever suffered through a night with a dripping faucet or a too-hot room knows that our environment can greatly impact how well we sleep. Maintaining a dark, quiet, and cool bedroom is the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep. Here are some tips on how to achieve that:

  • Reduce caffeine throughout the day, especially in the evening.
  • Get regular exercise, but not within three hours of bedtime.
  • Listen to music or read before bed instead of watching TV or using the computer. Studies have shown that the light emitted by electronic devices interferes with sleep, even more so in children than adults.
  • Light has the biggest impact on our circadian rhythms. Expose yourself to bright light during the day — natural light rather than artificial — and use light-blocking curtains or shades to darken bedrooms at night.
  • To block out unwanted noise, wear earplugs or use “white noise” such as a fan.
  • In general, cooler is better when it comes to bedroom temperature. Aim for between 45 degrees and 75 degrees.
  • Set appropriate and consistent bedtimes, even on weekends, for all members of the family, even the adults.

If you’ve tried these tips along with going to bed earlier or getting more rest during the day for several weeks and you still don’t feel well-rested, you may be one of the estimated 18 million Americans with sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. Anyone who snores, falls asleep at inappropriate times, or has other sleep disorders symptoms should see their doctor.

For more healthy living tips, stay tuned for our next blog post about “greening” your family’s lifestyle to be more eco-friendly.