Sweet Dreams

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Getting the recommended amount of sleep has long been known to be essential in promoting positive health, well-being, and safety. During sleep, our body restores our energy to help us feel refreshed the next day and helps improve our memory and mood. It is recommended that adults receive around seven to nine hours, teens eight to 10 hours, and school-aged children nine to 12 hours of sleep per night to maintain a healthy sleep schedule. Trouble falling or staying asleep can have many different causes, including stress. Stress can include concerns about work, school, finances, relationships, or even difficult life events. Thoughts about worldwide events, such as increasing gas prices, the COVID-19 pandemic, or the war in Ukraine may also lead to sleep difficulties.

It may be difficult for everyone to receive the recommended amount of sleep, and if you don’t get enough sleep, this can lead to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can lead to daytime sleepiness as well as the following problems:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Cardiovascular disease (including high blood pressure, stroke)
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Poor cognitive performance (such as shortened attention span, memory difficulties)
  • Sleep-wake disorder

The National Sleep Foundation revealed that 40 million people in the U.S. experience sleep disorders, which can lead to sleep deprivation and insufficient sleep. We’ve included several examples of the most common sleep-wake disorders:

  • Insomnia disorder is characterized by difficulty falling and staying asleep, as well as early-morning awakening without the ability to fall back asleep. Individuals with insomnia may experience the following symptoms:
    • Fatigue
    • Irritability
    • Depressed mood
    • Significant difficulties with daily functioning
  • Sleep apnea causes you to stop and start breathing while sleeping, repeatedly. Individuals with sleep apnea generally have limited air reaching their lungs while they sleep, causing continuous interruptions in sleep throughout the night. The following symptoms may be experienced:
    • Fatigue
    • Irritability
    • Loud snoring
    • Difficulty concentrating
  • Narcolepsy is caused by excessive, uncontrollable sleepiness during the day. Individuals may experience sudden attacks of sleep lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, causing disruptions to one’s daily routine that interferes with education, employment, and relationships. The following symptoms may be experienced:
    • Excessive drowsiness during the day
    • Restlessness and irritability
    • Vivid hallucinations while falling asleep or waking up

It is recommended that you talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns or symptoms.

What Can I Do to Improve My Sleep? 

Consistently maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is just as important as eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and exercising. We gathered a few recommendations that may help you improve your sleep:

  • Put Sleep First. Our lives can get hectic, but prioritizing sleep over deadlines, errands, and other activities can help you become more alert and productive during the day. It might be helpful to schedule when you want to go to sleep and wake up every day, so your body can get used to this pattern. Setting up a healthy sleep schedule may improve your circadian rhythm and improve your quality of sleep.
  • Avoid Caffeine Before Bedtime. Drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee or sodas a few hours before bedtime might make it harder for you to fall asleep and decrease the quality of your overall sleep. Try drinking some chamomile tea or cold water instead.
  • Keep Electronics Away. Electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, should be put away 20 to 30 minutes before bedtime. The blue light that is projected from these devices may hinder your body’s melatonin production, making it harder for you to fall asleep. Instead of using your phone before bed, try reading or journaling instead.
  • Create a Serene Environment and Relax Your Mind. Dimming your lights and blocking out noise can help create a peaceful environment to help you fall asleep quicker. Try listening to relaxing music before bed to create an effective sleeping environment. Meditation and deep breathing can help relax your mind and get your body ready for sleep.

For more information regarding sleep health, visit,

The National Sleep Foundation: https://www.thensf.org

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute – Sleep Health: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/education-and-awareness/sleep-health

(Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: María Sevilla-Matos, Pablo Ruiz, Andy Torres, Amanda Palomin, and Frances Morales.)

Dr. Alfonso Mercado