Don't underestimate the importance of sleep

Lack of sleep can contribute to chronic disease. MSU Extension’s SLEEP (Sleep Education for Everyone Program) provides guidelines to improve sleep quality.

A woman wearing a sleep mask over her eyes sleeping in a bed.
Photo: Pexels/Anna Nekrashevich.

Sleep . . . most of us are not getting enough of it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of adults in the United States are getting less sleep than what is recommended. Nearly 40 percent of people living in Michigan report they usually do not get the suggested amount of sleep. 

Fatigue, inability to concentrate and irritability are common symptoms associated with lack of sleep. Did you know that not getting enough sleep also contributes to many chronic diseases and conditions, such as chronic pain, diabetes, heart disease obesity, high blood pressure, stroke and depression? Poor sleep is also linked to motor vehicle crashes and machinery-related injuries.    

According to the book Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, just like food and water, sleep is a basic need. Good quality sleep not only helps you feel rested, refreshed and ready to face the day, it also helps to heal and repair muscles and tissues and provides energy to your vital organs, including the brain.

How much sleep do you need and how can you improve your quality of sleep? 

The amount of sleep needed varies with age, but adults should try to get seven to nine hours each night. MSU Extension’s SLEEP (Sleep Education for Everyone Program) series is a six-week program that offers the following guidelines to help improve good sleep hygiene practices, which are behaviors that improve sleep quality:

  • Develop a regular bedtime and wake time schedule every day, including weekends.
  • Go to bed only when you are sleepy. Get up and do something that is not stimulating (like listening to soothing music or meditation) outside of your bedroom if you do not go to sleep within ten minutes.
  • Reduce your exposure to bright light after going to bed and avoid blue light sources that come from devices such as televisions, computers and cell phones.
  • Make sure to have comfortable pillows and a good mattress. 
  • Keep your room at a comfortable temperature.
  • Consider taking a warm bath or shower about one hour before bedtime or wear socks to bed to help drop your core body temperature – both may help you fall asleep faster.
  • A small snack before bedtime is okay if you are hungry, but avoid high fat, spicy or acidic foods, as they can cause heartburn. Caffeine should be avoided six hours before going to bed, and alcohol and nicotine should be avoided at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Consider incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine to help work towards an increase in and better quality of sleep.  

If you continue to experience sleep problems, Michigan State University Extension recommends consulting a health care provider. Before visiting your physician, consider keeping a sleep diary. Record when you go to bed, sleep, wake up and get out of bed. It is also helpful to keep track of naps, exercise and when alcohol and/or caffeinated beverages are consumed. 

For more information about the SLEEP program, please contact Dr. Robin Tucker, lead developer and researcher of this curriculum.        

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