Sleep: What We Need and How to Get More

August 31, 2020

Elliott Friedman

Many of us don’t get enough sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Sleep Foundation, “enough” means 7-9 hours a night for anyone over age 18, but somewhere between ¼ and 1/3  of adults get less than that. Millions of Americans also suffer from sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep-disordered breathing, making them feel less refreshed even when they get a full night’s sleep. 

There are good reasons to try to sleep for 7-9 hours a night. People who get enough sleep live longer than those who don’t,1 they have better learning and memory abilities2 and immune function,3 and they are less likely to become depressed4 or to develop problems that can lead to heart disease.5

The good news is that there are effective treatments for the most common sleep disorders. Sleep-disordered breathing – typically sleep apnea – can be successfully treated with devices that maintain continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Most forms of insomnia can be treated with behavioral modification through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.6

There are also effective guidelines for getting a better night’s sleep, even if you don’t have a sleep disorder. Here are some tips from the Sleep Foundation:

  1. Set a sleep schedule. The simplest thing is to wake up at the same time every day (even weekends). Waking up at the same time will encourage your body to naturally set a bedtime that will let you get 7 or more hours of sleep.
  2. Establish bedtime routines that help you wind down and let your body know that you’re preparing for sleep. Avoid strenuous exercise, caffeine, or big meals within a couple of hours of bedtime.
  3. Being regularly physically active during the day, avoiding smoking and drinking, and keeping electronic devices away from your bed at night will all help you sleep better.
  4. Your bed should be linked in your mind to sleeping (and sex) only. Try to do homework somewhere else. If you find it hard to fall or stay asleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing (e.g., reading) until your eyes start to close involuntarily. 

Sleep well!

Dr. Elliot Friedman

  1. Kripke DF, Garfinkel L, Wingard DL, Klauber MR, Marler MR. Mortality associated with sleep duration and insomnia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002;59(2):131-136.
  2. Stickgold R, Fosse R, Walker MP. Linking brain and behavior in sleep-dependent learning and memory consolidation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002;99(26):16519-16521.
  3. Irwin MR. Sleep and inflammation: partners in sickness and in health. Nat Rev Immunol. 2019;19(11):702-715.
  4. Fernandez-Mendoza J, Shea S, Vgontzas AN, Calhoun SL, Liao D, Bixler EO. Insomnia and incident depression: role of objective sleep duration and natural history. Journal of sleep research. 2015;24(4):390-398.
  5. Javaheri S, Redline S. Insomnia and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. Chest. 2017;152(2):435-444.
  6. Trauer JM, Qian MY, Doyle JS, Rajaratnam SM, Cunnington D. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Insomnia: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2015;163(3):191-204.

Dr. Elliot Friedman is the William and Salley Berner professor of Gerontology in Human Development and Family Studies, in the college of Health and Human Sciences. His research interests include how psychological experiences affect biological processes related to health with an emphasis on physiological regulation in middle and later life, psychological well-being and health, biopsychosocial integration and successful aging. Be sure to check back each week for another wellness tip of the week!

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