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House Call: Beware of this common but false theory about sleep

 (Jouflas / MCT)
(Jouflas / MCT)
By Bob Riggs and M.D. For The Spokesman-Review

Getting enough sleep is one of those things that most of us find a challenge, especially as our days get longer. But it’s critically important for your health. It’s a myth that we need less sleep as we get older. You should still aim for 7-8 hours each night. And you can’t sufficiently make up for it on the weekends – our bodies don’t work that way.

Why is sleep important? Proper sleep helps us stay energized through the day and improves cognitive function. Good sleep also helps us avoid getting sick, maintain a healthy weight, have healthier hearts and stay happier.

Studies increasingly indicate a linkage between a lack of sleep and more serious conditions like migraines, dementia and diabetes in men.

In general, studies show adults need 7-8 hours (some even more) of sleep each night. Children and adolescents need at least 10 hours a night.

So here are some ideas for making sleep a priority in your home:

Set a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule that allows for 7-8 hours of sleep each night and keep to it, even on the weekends.

Expose yourself to sunlight and fresh air during waking hours, especially in the afternoon if you start to feel sluggish. Conversely, avoid bright light in the evening and at night.

Finish meals and snacks 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine in the evening. It can take 6-8 hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off, so you may need to adjust your daytime caffeine intake accordingly. Alcohol can also prevent you from deep sleep, which we all need.

Regular exercise can help you have a better night’s sleep, provided you do it at the right time. Morning exercise can help wake you up and have more energy during the day and afternoon exercise can get you through that sluggish afternoon period some of us experience. If you prefer to exercise in the evening, make sure that you finish your workout at least 2 hours before bedtime. Not everyone can sleep well after working out in the evening.

Many people like a good nap, especially on the weekends. If you do nap, set an alarm and limit your nap to 20 minutes. It’s long enough to give you an energy boost to finish of the day, but no so long that you won’t feel sleepy at bedtime.

A bedtime routine sends cues to your brain and body that it is time for sleep. Turn off televisions, phones and tablets an hour before bedtime and slow down. Try reading a calming book, or by doing some other relaxing activity. If you have your books on an e-reader, turn the brightness down, turn on the feature that shifts the colors of the display to warmer colors of the spectrum or switch the display so that you have white letters on a black background. Sunshine and bright white light from a computer or e-reader suppresses melatonin release, a sleep-inducing hormone.

Don’t read or watch TV in bed. You want to always reinforce that your bed is for sleeping.

Most people sleep best in a cool room, so set your thermostat accordingly or crack the window for fresh air.

Ensure that the room is dark and quiet; consider sleeping with eyeshades and earplugs if needed.

Give yourself some “white noise” to help get you to sleep. Many people like the sounds of waterfalls or other relaxing sounds to soothe you into sleep. Other people find a fan very helpful to drown the little sounds that keep you from dozing off.

We’re getting about 3.5 more minutes of daylight every day until June 21, which many of us don’t want to waste. It can be a tricky balance adjusting to the change and making sure that you get enough sleep each night. But if you do, you’ll enjoy the day so much better.

Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.

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