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Sleep Sensitivity

Sleep is An Essential, but Often Overlooked, Part of Our Health

Kannan Ramar, MD

President, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

When you think about healthy behaviors, you probably think about eating right and exercising, but are you also thinking about your sleep? Sleep is an important pillar of health that is often overlooked. Getting healthy, sufficient sleep on a regular basis allows us to be our best at every stage in life. 

Sleep for Healthy Growth and Development

From the time we are born, sleep is a critical function for our body. When babies sleep, they build important neural pathways and connections in the brain to form and store memories and support their learning as they get older. Sleep in young children and teenagers is vital to recharge the mind and body after a busy day, promote healthy physical growth, and improve mood. Sleep helps children concentrate, learn and remember new information, be more creative, and feel more energetic during the day.

Teenagers in particular can struggle to get the 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). School, family, and work obligations often leave them with insufficient time for sleep, and early school start times interfere with teenagers’ circadian rhythm, their internal clock that tells them when to feel sleepy and when to wake up. A lack of sleep can have a negative impact on teens’ mental and physical health, performance in school, decision-making, and risk of accidents.

Sleep for Lifelong Health

While adults may not need as much nightly sleep as children, sleep is still a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy sleep is important for heart, brain, and metabolic health. It helps our body heal from illnesses, build antibodies and immune cells, and maintain positive mental health. Getting good, quality sleep each night keeps us alert during the day so we can think clearly and react quickly. It helps us maintain high levels of performance and evaluate risks. We are safer when we’re well-rested. We’re also healthier. Research shows that insufficient sleep increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Sleep Well to Live Well

You can take some simple steps today to make healthy sleep a priority. Maintain a set sleep schedule, avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening, and don’t eat too late. Relax before bed by turning off electronic devices and keep those distractions out of the bedroom. Sleep in a cool, dark environment. 

If you struggle to get enough sleep or are tired during the day, talk to your health care provider. You may have a sleep disorder that is preventing you from getting the essential sleep you need. Your medical provider may refer you to an accredited sleep center for help. 

When we sleep well, we live well. Healthy sleep simply makes life better.

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