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Sleep: A Simple, Powerful Step to Better Health

March 8, 2016



Woman sleeping with a smile on her face

We’ve all had the experience of the alarm blaring far too early in the morning after a late or sleepless night. We want to hit snooze (again!), but instead we stumble to the kitchen for a cup of coffee to try to jump start the day.

Whether you’re a night owl or morning lark, we know that getting the right amount of sleep helps us to be at the top of our game. Adults generally require 7-8 hours of sleep, but with busy workdays, long commutes, and the needs of children and families, many people don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. On top of that, nearly 40 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder. And lack of sleep, it turns out, can contribute to some serious health conditions.

The consequences of insufficient sleep — whether caused by a busy lifestyle or a diagnosed sleep disorder — can be serious enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named insufficient sleep a public health problem. Beyond the immediate dangers of drowsy drivers or machine operators, growing evidence demonstrates that extended bouts of sleeplessness can also contribute to hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity and cancer

The approaching shift to Daylight Saving Time can also disrupt sleep cycles, even for people who normally don’t have trouble getting sufficient sleep.

What you can do

detail from infographic about sleep: make sleep a priority

Detail from sleep infographic. Download full infographic (pdf) or view text from infographic.

“Stress is one of the biggest triggers for insomnia,” says Shanon Makekau, MD, medical director of Kaiser Permanente’s sleep lab in Hawaii.

If you suffer from insomnia or sleeplessness, improving your sleep hygiene can help you fall and stay asleep. If everything is working well and you’re getting plenty of quality sleep, don’t change your routine, but do keep some of these tips on hand for when occasional sleeplessness strikes.

“We can’t get rid of stress entirely,” says Dr. Makekau, “But it is important to make good sleep habits a priority during times of stress.”

Here are a few ways to improve sleep hygiene:

  • Keep a regular bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends.
  • Make your bed a sanctuary for sleep — and keep other activities such as reading, working or watching TV out of the bedroom.
  • Stay away from electronics such as the phone, computer and TV for 60-90 minutes before bedtime.
  • Free your mind of persistent worries by jotting down your stresses or what you forgot to do that day.
  • Wind down before bedtime with your own relaxing bedtime rituals.

KP's Rest and Revise toolkit logo over image of man sitting in bed stretchingSupporting good sleep habits is also important for employers who want their employees to be well and able to perform their best every day. Kaiser Permanente has created the Rest and Revive sleep management toolkit to address this common issue. This toolkit is available for download and includes weekly tips and resources employers can use to help employees learn about and improve their sleep habits. When employees get on a path to better sleep, it can improve morale, reduce stress and even lower health care costs.

If there is an underlying medical cause for sleeplessness, such as sleep apnea or other respiratory causes, it is important to contact your physician. It is also important to talk to your physician if you have an extended bout of insomnia that doesn’t go away even after you change your habits.

For more information about sleep disorders and what you can do to get a good night’s sleep, listen to “The ABCs of ZZZs” podcast or visit kp.org to learn more about getting better sleep.