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Proper sleep impacts mental, physical health
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- A good night’s sleep is important for everyone, but the true benefits of a restful night for people’s minds and health is sometimes misunderstood and underappreciated.
Alisha Hardman, family life specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and assistant professor in the MSU School of Human Sciences, said good sleep practices are more important than people think. The National Sleep Foundation defines appropriate sleep hygiene as “practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”
“One of the most important sleep hygiene practices is to spend an appropriate amount of time asleep in bed,” Hardman said. “Young adults from 18-25 years old need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Individuals should determine what the optimal amount of sleep is for them, as getting too little or too much sleep is problematic.”
Hardman said people should limit daytime naps to no longer than 30 minutes. They should also avoid fatty meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, heavy or rich foods, and carbonated, caffeinated drinks close to bedtime. The sleep environment should be conducive to sleep, including a cool, dark room.
“Exercise promotes good quality sleep,” Hardman said. “But avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime because they can produce unneeded energy that may keep a person awake longer at night.”
Signs of poor sleep hygiene may include frequent sleep disturbances, daytime sleepiness and taking a long time to fall asleep. Studies have linked poor sleep to depression, obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Hardman has conducted educational research and outreach work on the influence of technology on family life. She said technology can influence the quality of a person’s sleep in important ways.
“A contemporary culprit that may contribute to sleep problems is the use of artificial lighting and particularly the use of electronics at night,” Hardman said. “Blue light, such as the light emitted from the screens of our TVs, phones or computers, can interfere with our circadian rhythm. When we are in darkness, our bodies secrete the hormone melatonin, which signals the body to get tired and fall asleep.”
Research has demonstrated that exposure to blue light emitted from electronics in the evening disrupts the brain’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Blue light tricks the brain into thinking it is daytime, which may reduce the quantity and quality of sleep.
In addition to good sleeping habits, it is also important to know how much sleep a person should get at each stage in life. Lori Staton, Extension sleep specialist and associate professor in the MSU School of Human Sciences, said that infants need a considerable amount of sleep during the day because they are growing and developing at a rapid pace.
“Newborns are learning to consolidate their sleep, so initially their sleep is throughout the day and may be in small increments,” Staton said. “As we grow, our sleep becomes more consolidated in the night, with many children not participating in napping by the age of 5 years.”
The National Sleep Foundation indicates that children need more sleep than adolescents and adults. School-aged children require anywhere from 9-11 hours for optimal development. From adolescence onwards, people need 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Insomnia is the most common sleep-related complaint among adults. Many environmental and individual factors might lead to insomnia, including stress, pain, mood problems or poor sleep habits.
Staton recommended having a relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding stimulants like caffeine and keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule to combat insomnia.