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How Sleep Can Impact Health

young woman on phone in bed

Stress from the pandemic, too much time indoors and long hours on your laptop could be impacting the quality of your sleep. Long term sleep disruptions are tied to a host of health issues including obesity, hypertension and increased risk of stroke.

Amit Khanna, MD, FAASM, Medical Director of the Lawrence + Memorial Sleep Center, said most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. However, everyone has different needs. If you’re sleeping in on the weekends by more than one hour, your body is likely sleep deprived.

Trouble sleeping could stem from a sleep disorder or chronic pain. But lifestyle is a powerful force and the demands of work can play a big role in your sleep habits.

“We live in a society where we run 24/7 and people in our communities work every shift imaginable,” Dr. Khanna said.

In addition, he has seen patients who list COVID-19 as one of the top stressors in their life right now. Nightmares about the pandemic can impact sleep patterns.

“When you’re fearful that you’re going to have one of those bad dreams again, it sort of creates a vicious cycle where you’re trying to prevent yourself from going to sleep and then you run yourself down,” Dr. Khanna said.

In the short term, poor sleep hygiene, a term used to describe healthy sleep practices, can impact your mood, ability to focus and memory. It can also lead to risky decision making, like driving erratically.

Over time, sleep deprivation can be tied to mental health issues including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. It can also increase your risk of stroke, coronary disease and heart attacks.

“We get so many referrals for irregular heart rhythms, for high blood pressure, for people with coronary disease,” Dr. Khanna said. “There’s a lot of pieces to this puzzle and sleep is a major factor. If you think about the fact we spend a third of our lives asleep, a lot of important things are happening, a lot of important processes are happening during our sleep that restore our health and wellbeing.”

Dr. Khanna recommends patients look at their habits before bedtime. Smoking, drinking alcohol and watching TV before bed can all impact your sleep. Use the 30 minutes before you fall asleep to put electronics away. During the day, exercise and exposure to sunlight are crucial.

Helping Kids Sleep

Those are also important elements for healthy sleep patterns in kids. If they’re learning remotely, time they used to spend outdoors may now be spent on a laptop, smartphone or gaming console.

“As parents we’ve all had to compromise,” said Craig Canapari, MD, director of the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital Pediatric Sleep Center. “I think during the day we have to make peace with it that they’re going to have more screen time. But I think in the evenings, it’s still good to have pretty hard limits. Thirty, 60 minutes without access to tablets and smartphones before bedtime is very reasonable.”

sleepy child

Use a break in screen time during the day to encourage kids to get moving. When they aren’t in school, they’re no longer walking to the bus, walking to different classes or participating in after school sports. Dr. Canapari said kids should exercise one hour per day, even if that time is broken up into 10 or 15 minute segments.

In the short term, kids struggling with sleep can become irritable or have trouble paying attention. In the long term, they’re more likely to struggle with obesity and high blood pressure. Just like adults, they can have problems with their mood and behavior.

Unlike adults, who typically need around eight hours of sleep per night, Dr. Canapari said there’s a range of how much sleep kids need depending on their age. Teens need between eight and 10 hours of sleep per night. Middle school aged kids need between nine and 11 hours, kids under 10 need around 10 hours of sleep and preschoolers need between 10 and 13 hours.

No matter your age, sticking to a sleep schedule can make a difference. Prioritizing a healthy sleep schedule now can help set you up for success later on.