The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults sleep seven or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health. But data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 70 million U.S. adults report sleeping six hours or less on average. That’s bad news for the health of our nation. If we’re going to be healthy, then we have to make the pursuit of healthy sleep one of our top priorities.

Bedrock issue

So why does this matter? Healthy sleep is vital for your physical health, reducing your risk of adverse health outcomes. Getting seven hours of sleep or more promotes peak performance and productivity and even helps protect you from catching a cold.

Healthy sleep is also essential for mental health because it helps balance mood and emotions. By improving memory and focus, sleep sharpens your mind, helps you think clearly and perform your best at work and school. Healthy sleep also promotes personal and public safety by improving alertness and reaction times, which can prevent drowsy driving accidents and work errors.

Trouble sleeping?

You can often sleep better by simply following the practices of good sleep hygiene. Your behaviors and the choices you make have a major impact on your sleep and can contribute to sleeplessness. Your actions during the day, and especially before bedtime, can make it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep or get restful sleep. Even a few slight adjustments can, in some cases, mean the difference between sound sleep and a restless night.

"Develop a regular bedtime routine so your body will know that sleep is imminent."

Healthy sleep involves making the right choices to prioritize and protect sleep. The quantity of sleep you get is important. Most adults need at least seven hours of nightly sleep for optimal health and productivity. Some people need more sleep to feel well rested. Make sure that you set a bedtime that allows you to get seven or more hours of sleep per night. Also be sure to turn off your electronic devices so you have time to wind down before bed.

Quantity and quality

Simply achieving at least seven hours of sleep each night isn’t enough: you also need quality sleep. Avoid common sleep disrupters in the evening. These include alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. Listen to your body and go to bed when you feel sleepy at night. Maintain a consistent bed and wake time every day. Develop a regular bedtime routine so your body will know that sleep is imminent.

If you have an ongoing sleep problem, you may be one of the millions of Americans with an untreated sleep disorder. Even if you spend seven or more hours in bed each night, a sleep disorder can prevent you from getting quality sleep. There are a host of sleep problems that can disrupt your sleep. These include chronic insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.

Be sure that you never ignore an ongoing sleep problem. You don’t have to go through life feeling tired, exhausted and frustrated. Help is available. Speak with a board-certified sleep medicine physician who has the training and expertise to diagnose and treat any sleep disorder. And remember: Sleep is not optional. Your body needs sleep, and your health depends on it.