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MD Insights: Sleep

How important is sleep? Are there long-term consequences for missing a couple of hours now and then? Get insights into an MD’s perspective on sleep and its role in our long-term health.

What comes to mind when you think about sleep? Do you view it as an interruption that keeps you from getting things done or something you look forward to but can never seem to get enough of? If you had to rank work, play, and sleep in terms of importance, where would sleep land? There is strong evidence to support that sleep should be your top priority. Research indicates that the quality of sleep greatly affects overall quality of life.  

The Impact of Sleep

Your Brain

Sleep has a big impact on how well your brain works. Getting enough sleep helps your brain store memories, process information, and improve skills like solving problems, concentrating, and making decisions. Basically, when you sleep well, your brain functions better. But when you don't get enough quality sleep, these abilities can suffer.

Your Body

Sleep is crucial for your overall physical health. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of serious conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. It can even accelerate aging. For instance, a study found that people who regularly sleep less than 6 hours a night are more than twice as likely to develop cancer as those who get more sleep. On the flip side, good, consistent sleep boosts your body's ability to fend off sickness, heal faster after injuries, and maintain a robust immune system.

Your Mental Health

The amount and quality of sleep you get can greatly influence your mental health. Adequate sleep helps in regulating emotions and maintaining mental stability, which can prevent or lessen the severity of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Poor sleep, on the other hand, can make these conditions worse. It can even contribute to feelings of loneliness, as being tired can make it harder to socialize and connect with others. In short, getting enough good sleep is essential for keeping your mind as healthy as your body.

Your Relationships

Good sleep strengthens your resilience, which means you can handle your emotions better, get less irritable, and recover from tough situations more easily. On the other hand, not getting enough sleep can lead to the opposite effects: you might find yourself quick to anger, struggling in your relationships, and feeling stressed more often. Additionally, poor sleep is associated with decreased libido and reproductive issues in both men and women. Simply put, better sleep leads to improved emotional health and more fulfilling relationships.

Tips for Improving Sleep

The key is to start small. Long-term behavioral change comes from consistent and realistic alterations to our habits. To begin, here are some practical tips for improving and prioritizing sleep, including ways to prepare the mind and body for rest and actions to take during the day to enhance your sleep quality at night.

Minimize Blue Light Before Bed

The blue light from phones and other mobile devices can keep us awake and degrade the quality of our sleep. If you enjoy watching Netflix or browsing social media before bed, try to do so in another room, like your living room or even at a kitchen table. The goal is to keep your bedroom environment dedicated to sleep.

Stick To A Schedule

Craft a bedtime routine that focuses on relaxing activities. Consistent, calming pre-sleep rituals can significantly improve sleep quality by signaling to the brain that it’s time to wind down.

The routine is entirely up to each individual and can include relaxing activities such as reading, enjoying a cup of tea, meditating, journaling, or doing gentle stretches.

Whether your routine lasts an hour or just five minutes, this personalized approach can greatly enhance sleep quality each night.

Daytime Activities

Daytime behaviors play a significant role in how well you sleep at night. Here are some key areas to focus on:

  • Caffeine and Alcohol Intake – To help ensure a good night’s sleep, it’s best to avoid caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. Alcohol can significantly reduce sleep quality, so consume alcohol in moderation.

  • Physical Activity – Regular exercise helps signal to your body that it’s time to rest at the end of the day. Try to include some form of physical activity in your daily routine, whether it’s a morning jog, a bike ride, or even a walk during lunch.

  • Stress Management – Effectively managing stress is essential for healthy sleep. Practicing stress management techniques not only improves sleep but is also one of the most beneficial skills for overall well-being.

MD Insights

Dr. James Yost, Chief Medical Officer at CRH Healthcare

An Emory alum with 30 years of healthcare  experience and 17 years as a practicing physician, Dr. Yost cares deeply about the patient experience, inside and outside our centers. Starting this year, Dr. Yost will be answering our patients’ most common questions through MD Insights, with practical and trustworthy advice.