It’s National Sleep Awareness Month — What You Should Know About Sleep!

It’s National Sleep Awareness Month — What You Should Know About Sleep!

By Susan J. Corbridge, PhD, ACNP, FAANP, FCCP, FAAN

Sleep is essential to physical and mental health, yet many people have difficulty getting good quality sleep or the amount of sleep recommended for their age group. Sleep restores and fuels the mind and sustains every system in the body. One of the most important things we can all do for overall health and wellness is to focus on getting enough good quality sleep; however, sleep health is often overlooked by even the most health-conscious individuals.

As a lung health nurse practitioner (NP) for more than 25 years, I regularly screen for and address sleep disorders. In addition, I discuss the importance of sleep health with every patient, as I understand the essential role sleep plays in an individual’s quality of life and overall physical and mental well-being. Sleep also plays a major role in combatting illness and disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting sufficient hours of high-quality sleep is essential for the immune system and can help you prevent or control chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression. 

Understanding how much sleep you need is a great first step to better sleep health. It’s also important to factor in your overall health status and how much activity you get each day. So, how much sleep do you need? The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, and those individuals over age 65 should get at least seven to eight hours of sleep nightly. Babies, toddlers, children and teenagers need even more sleep to foster their growth and development.

In addition to sleep quantity (the amount of time you are sleeping), sleep quality (how well you are sleeping) is essential. The NSF defines good sleep quality by the following characteristics:

  • Falling asleep within 30 minutes or less after getting into bed.
  • Sleeping straight through the night on most nights, waking up no more than once per night.
  • Sleeping the recommended number of hours for your age group.
  • Falling back asleep within 20 minutes, if you do wake up.
  • Feeling rested, restored and energized when you wake up in the morning.

Good sleep quality is essential, as poor sleep quality can worsen your mood and impair your focus, straining your day-to-day functioning. This can lead to motor vehicle crashes and poor performance or mistakes at work or school. In addition, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reported poor sleep quality has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,. If you feel tired and have difficulty concentrating during the day, this may be related to poor sleep quality. 

For a better night’s sleep, the AASM recommends the following Healthy Sleep Habits. In addition to discussing these healthy habits with my patients, I follow this guidance in my own life, because I recognize how very important sleep is to everything we are and do! If you follow these healthy habits and continue to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or feeling excessively tired in the daytime, talk to your NP or other health care provider, as the CDC indicates these symptoms may signal a more serious sleep disorder. 

One common sleep disorder that I see often in my clinical practice is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the muscles relax during sleep and the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses, causing a decrease or complete lack of airflow. OSA causes a sudden lack of oxygen to the brain, resulting in a brief waking of the individual to resume normal breathing. This cycle can occur hundreds of times a night, which usually results in significant daytime sleepiness. Most people with OSA snore loudly, yet also have periods of silence when the airway is blocked. Choking or gasping is also common as the airway re-opens. There are several risk factors for OSA; however, it is most common in people who are overweight or obese. OSA often goes undiagnosed, and if left untreated, can lead to serious health complications, including high blood pressure, cardiac disease and stroke. Additional information on OSA is available from AASM.

As you focus on improving your health this winter, remember how important sleep is to your overall physical and mental well-being, and be sure to talk to your NP or other health care provider if sleep problems persist. I encourage you to start tonight with the healthy sleep habits listed above for a better tomorrow and better you. Oh, what a good night’s sleep can do!