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Sleep – How Much Do You Really Need?

March 2 – 9, 2014, was National Sleep Awareness Week, marking a time when we should all think about issues concerned with sleep and evaluate if we are getting enough of it.  To support us in this effort is Dr. Asma Afzal of WakeMed Physician Practices – Parkway Primary Care in Cary, N.C.  She offers helpful information on sleep and how to get more of it.

Every part of the body benefits from sleep.  Our tissues, brain, heart and muscles all need enough rest to rejuvenate themselves each day and function properly.  For adults, getting enough sleep means 6 to 8 hours per day.  Teenagers often need about 9 hours of sleep each day, while babies, toddlers and children need even more because they are still growing.

A lack of sleep can have negative effects on your body.  Without enough sleep, you will probably not feel well or you’ll feel a bit off.  You might have trouble focusing or concentrating, suffer from headaches or not be able to function as you normally do.  You may feel slower or even sluggish.  If lack of sleep becomes a chronic problem, you could experience feelings of fatigue and even become depressed.

In general, you really can’t “catch up” on your sleep.  For example, sleeping more on the weekends than on the weekdays will not create the same health benefits as habitually getting enough rest on a daily basis.  If you are having trouble getting enough sleep each night, below are some strategies that may help you create better sleep habits or “good sleep hygiene.”

  • Don’t eat, read or watch TV in your bed – use your bed for sleeping only.  Allowing your mind to connect your bed directly with sleep will help you fall asleep faster and more soundly.
  • Turn off the lights in your bedroom, and cover any light coming from your alarm clock or other electronic devices.  Lights can affect your ability to fall asleep.
  • Use a sound machine in your room.  Sometimes calming background noise can be helpful for falling and staying asleep.
  • Take a warm bath before bed to help your body relax and prepare for sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after noon each day.  They can stay in your system for several hours and affect your ability to fall asleep at night.

Additionally, some people find that taking an over-the-counter, natural supplement such as melatonin helps them regulate their sleep cycle.

If snoring coupled with weight gain is an issue for you or your partner, you should schedule an appointment with your physician as sleep apnea could be a concern.  Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing during sleep.  Learn more about snoring and sleep apnea.

It is vitally important to practice good sleep hygiene for your overall health and well-being.  Remember that sleep is just as important to your health as exercise and eating a nutritious diet.  Make it a priority and enjoy reaching your full potential each day.

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