Feeling extra tired? You may have a sleep disorder. Learn how a lack of sleep affects your emotional and physical health.

There’s nothing quite like waking up feeling rested and refreshed after a good night’s sleep. Quality sleep is a must for your overall health and well-being. Unfortunately, over 25% of the American population struggles with poor sleep at one time or another. Sleep disruption can take a toll on energy, mood, and health over time if left untreated. The good news is that there are steps you can take to learn how to be a better sleeper.

Sleep Does Your Body and Mind Good

Feeling well-rested is what we all aim for after a night of sleep. Good sleep leaves us feeling energized, productive, and ready to take on the day. But on top of feeling great, sleep provides several other, perhaps less obvious health perks. For starters, quality sleep is actually restorative for our bodies and keeps our immune system going strong. While we sleep, the numbers of germ-fighting cells and proteins we need to keep us healthy are at their peak. Sleep can also help you keep from gaining weight by suppressing appetite-boosting hormones while improving your ability to tell when you’re full. Finally, sleep keeps you happier; sleep deprived people report higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Common Sleep Disorders

Sleep boasts many health benefits, but the harsh reality is that many of us are unable to sleep well on a regular basis. Sleep disorders are conditions that impair the ability to sleep and cause significant difficulty related to social and work-related tasks. Insomnia, the most common sleep complaint, is described as the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep upon waking in the middle of the night. Sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which breathing temporarily stops, leading to frequent awakenings. Restless legs syndrome causes urges to move the legs or arms while laying down due to uncomfortable sensations.

How Much Sleep is Enough?

The length of time you sleep influences how restorative your sleep will be, so it’s important that you don’t ignore your sleep disorder if you have one. The goal is to make sure you get the right amount of sleep each night. Experts recommend the following nightly amount:

Newborns 0-3 months                        14 to 17 hours

Infants 4-11 months                             12 to 15 hours

Toddlers 1-2 years                               11 to 14 hours

Preschoolers 3-5 years                      10 to 13 hours

School-age Children 6-13 years       9 to 11 hours

Teenagers 14-17 years                       8 to 10 hours

Adults 16-64 years                             7 to 9 hours

Older adults ≥65 years                      7 to 8 hours

Steps For Getting Started

Þ   Become a sleep detective. Dig deep and figure out why you can’t sleep. Are you drinking too much caffeine during the day? Are you feeling overly anxious? Are you taking a medication that may be interfering? Have you been too sedentary, allowing exercise to fall to the wayside?  Identifying and addressing disruptive habits is the best first step to treating disrupted sleep.

Þ   Optimize your sleep environment. Make sure your bedroom is a pleasant, cool temperature. Block out all noise and sunlight for a quiet and dark room. Upgrade your mattress if it is not supportive for your body.  Make the changes you need, to make it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Þ   Establish a consistent bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.

The key to improving sleep is to start small. Make small changes and see what works, adjusting along the way when necessary.  If these strategies aren’t effective and further help is needed, make sure to visit a sleep specialist for an evaluation.