The Centers for Disease Control have called insufficient sleep “a public health epidemic” in the United States. If you’re frequently tired, wake frequently or fall asleep when you are trying to stay awake, complete the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to determine if you’re a candidate for a sleep study. If the results show that you’re at risk, contact your Northwestern Medicine primary care physician to arrange a more thorough evaluation.
Developing Habits to Minimize Sleep Problems
Good sleep habits are important for overall well-being. Sleep, like food and water, is a basic human necessity required to stay healthy. When sleep quantity and/or quality is compromised, it can lead to fatigue, uneasiness, daytime sleepiness, and other harmful sleep disorders.
To avoid the damaging effects of sleep deprivation, follow the general guidelines below on proper sleep hygiene:
- Get enough sleep: Most adults require 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night
- Maintain regular bedtime and waking times: Keeping a consistent sleep schedule adjusts your internal clock to match your daily schedule, allowing you to fall asleep and awaken at more desired times
- Limit naps: Long naps during the day may result in difficulty falling and staying asleep at night, so limit naps to less than 30 minutes in duration
- Exercise regularly: Exercise in the morning or early afternoon, and avoid strenuous exercise for at least six hours before bedtime
- Do not eat or drink heavily within three hours of bedtime: Eating before bedtime may result in heartburn and difficulty falling asleep
- Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only: Avoid watching TV, working, or exercising in bed, which may prevent relaxation before bedtime
- Ensure a quiet, peaceful sleeping environment: The ideal sleeping environment is quiet, dark, and not too cool or too warm
- Avoid or limit caffeine: Beverages containing caffeine should be limited to no more than three cups per day and not enjoyed six hours before bedtime
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime: Although it may initially help you fall asleep, alcohol can cause early awakenings and difficulty going back to sleep
- Quit smoking, or avoid smoking for at least three hours before sleep: Nicotine is a stimulant that may result in difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
- Wind down a few hours prior to sleep: Stress and worry prevent you from becoming relaxed enough to fall asleep, so concentrate on relaxing, pleasant thoughts at bedtime, read an enjoyable book, or listen to soothing music
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Research diseases and conditions relating to movement and balance.
- National Center on Sleep Disorders Research: The Patient and Public Information tab offers detailed information about sleep disorders and treatment.
- National Institutes of Health: See the MedlinePlus page for information on sleep disorders.
- The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Certain cardiovascular disorders can put you at a greater risk of a stroke. Learn the warning signs and other important information about strokes.
- National Sleep Foundation: Get a wealth of information about disorders that cause inadequate or excessive sleep.