Caffeine, diet and stimuli like TV can disrupt sleep, leading to stress and health concerns.
For optimal health, adults should get seven to nine hours a night, says William Sharp M.D., an internal medicine physician with Ascension Medical Group. His recommendation mirrors that of experts at the National Foundation, which, in 2015, released updated recommended sleep averages for all age groups.
Despite these guidelines, many adults get less sleep than their bodies need to function well. Dr. Sharp commonly hears from fatigued patients who point to stress as the reason they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep at night. “The stress they’re experiencing can be obvious or it can be subliminal,” he says. “Simply put, they can’t turn off their motor.”
Diet is another common sleep deterrent. “If you eat within an hour, your body has other business to complete,” he says. “You may experience heartburn or gas.” Dr. Sharp also notes that the idea that having a drink can help you get a good night’s sleep is misguided.
“Yes, alcohol has a narcotic effect, but it also stimulates your kidneys to put out more urine,” he notes. Non-traditional work schedules like midnight shifts can wreak havoc on one’s ability for the recommended number of hours. “Training your body during daylight hours can be a challenge,” Dr. Sharp acknowledges. Caffeine consumption, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and symptoms related to menopause are other common causes of sleep disturbance that Dr. Sharp regularly sees among his patients.
Dr. Sharp shares some simple tips with patients for restorative sleep, the first of which is to turn off the television. “When watching TV, watch TV,” he says. “But when it’s time to sleep, turn off the TV. Separate the two activities for a better shot at a good night’s sleep.”
He also recommends keeping your bedroom dark and cool to help create a perfect oasis. And his most important tip? Set and keep a regular sleep schedule. “Train yourself to go to bed at the same time every night and to get up at the same time every morning,” he says. “This will help you get quality REM, which is precious time the body needs to repair itself.”
He says that some of his patients who are now enjoying retirement are so trained to wake at the same time each morning that they can’t help but rise early when they no longer need to. “I tell these patients to lie back down and get another hour of sleep,” he says. “Just because you’re up doesn’t mean you can’t go back.”