Good health and overall wellness require fundamental elements such as a healthy diet, exercise, and quality sleep. For many people, receiving high-quality sleep is hard to come by. Research suggests that 33% of adults in the United States do not get enough sleep regularly. Getting good sleep is essential for your health and quality of life.
Definition of good sleep
The term “good sleep” is a general term that references the overall quality of sleep you receive. It is essential to clearly understand good sleep to assess areas that may require attention and intervention.
Good sleep refers to three vital elements:
- Sleep quality, which refers to consistent, uninterrupted sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed and alert when you wake up
- A consistent sleep schedule and a regular sleep routine
- An adequate amount of sleep based on your age
Take a moment to reflect on the three elements of good sleep listed above. Are you experiencing consistent sleep, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and routine, and getting the appropriate amount of sleep based on your age? Are you struggling in one or more areas? If so, you may be experiencing health or functional challenges as a result of your quality of sleep. The amount of sleep you need based on your age is outlined below.
How much sleep do I need?
The amount of sleep you need changes as you get older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following guidelines for sleep in 24 hours are as follows:
- Newborns ages 0-3 months: 14 to 17 hours of sleep
- Babies ages 4-12 months: 12-16 hours of sleep
- Toddlers ages 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours of sleep
- Preschool children ages 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours of sleep
- School-age children from 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours of sleep
- Teenagers from 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours of sleep
- Adults from 18-60 years old: at least 7 hours of sleep
- Adults between the ages of 61-64 years old: 7-9 hours of sleep
- Adults 65 years and older: between 7-8 hours of sleep
Based on your age and the recommendations listed above, are you receiving an adequate amount of sleep?
The importance of sleep on your overall health and functioning
Sleep plays a vital role in our physical and mental health. More specifically, sleep influences your brain function as well as your body’s physiological functioning. The effects of poor sleep are vast and can influence everything from the way you respond to stress, to your experience of physical pain, to your ability to perform cognitive tasks.
Short and Long-Term Consequences of Poor Sleep in Adults and Children
The consequences of poor sleep can also be short-term or long-term in nature, and they can range in severity. The consequences of poor sleep can be felt on physiological, cognitive, and psychological levels.
Short-term consequences of poor sleep in adults include:
- An increased experience of somatic pain
- Increased stress reactivity
- Mood and mental health disorders
- Decreased quality of life
- Performance, memory, and cognitive impairment
In teenagers and children, short-term consequences of poor sleep include:
- Conflict in relationships and poor psychosocial health
- Risk-taking behaviors
- Decline in academic performance
- Impairment in cognitive function
- Behavioral problems
Long-term consequences of poor sleep in adults include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic problems
- Weight-related issues
- Colorectal cancer
- Type 2 diabetes
- Dyslipidemia (high cholesterol)
In children and adolescents, long-term consequences of poor sleep can include:
- Worsening the progression of gastrointestinal disorders
- Exacerbating underlying medical challenges
- Decreasing overall health and quality of life
The impact of poor sleep in the United States
Despite the essentiality of sleep on your quality of life and health, millions of people across the country struggle with receiving good sleep. Roughly 70 million Americans report receiving poor sleep. The impact of poor sleep not is not only felt on an individual level; it’s also felt on a societal level. In fact, 20% of car accidents resulting in serious injury are due to driver sleepiness unrelated to alcohol consumption.
A study conducted in 2014 by the National Sleep Foundation resulted in the following:
- 35% of adults in the United States rated their sleep quality as poor to fair.
- Nearly (45%) of people in the study reported experiencing difficulty falling asleep at night.
- An astounding 53% of participants experienced problems staying asleep at least one night within the past week.
- 23% of participants struggled with staying asleep at least five nights out of the week.
There are over 100 sleep disorders that exist. While they each are uniquely different, sleep disorders are established in one of three ways:
- An inability to maintain established sleep (waking up in the middle of the night, difficulty staying asleep)
- An inability to receive an adequate amount of sleep (getting too little sleep)
- Experiencing events during sleep that decrease the quality of sleep (restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea)
Factors that influence your quality of sleep
Like many other types of disorders, there isn’t one specific factor that causes sleep disruption. Instead, several variables combine to either increase or decrease your risk of developing sleep disorders. Risk factors can include social, biological, psychological, and lifestyle influences.
Factors that can increase your risk of developing a sleep disorder or increase your risk of poor sleep include:
- Being a college student
- Working a late/night shift on a job
- Consuming an excessive amount of caffeine
- Drinking alcohol
- Drug abuse
- Limited exposure to sunlight
- Excessive exposure to nighttime light pollution
- Experiencing circumstantial stress (caring for a dependent loved one, waking up at all hours of the night to care for an infant)
- Being a parent of a young child
4 signs you’re not getting good sleep
There are many different symptoms associated with sleep disorders. Below are four common sleep disorder symptoms to look out for:
- You wake up too early in the morning, you wake up multiple times throughout the night and have difficulty falling back asleep, or you take longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night.
- You feel fatigued or sleepy throughout the day, you fall asleep at inappropriate times throughout the day, or you take frequent naps.
- You experience physical symptoms such as snoring, gasping, making choking sounds, stopping breathing, or experiencing a tingling feeling in your legs.
- Your legs jerk during sleep, or you feel like you can’t physically move when you first wake up.
Keep in mind that these are just some of the symptoms associated with sleep disorders. If you are experiencing a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor can evaluate you or connect you to a specialist who can.
What can I do to start improve my sleep now?
If you think there is room for improving your quality of sleep, you can make immediate lifestyle changes that may help.
Lifestyle changes include:
- Exercise and get plenty of natural light throughout the day.
- Create and maintain a sleep schedule that includes getting ready for bed and going to bed around the same time each night.
- Limit your exposure to artificial light.
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool at night.
- Avoid eating food or drinking fluids within a few hours before bed; this is especially true of alcohol and foods high in sugar.
Treatment options for sleep disorders
To be diagnosed with a sleep disorder, a healthcare provider will evaluate your symptoms, which may involve conducting a medical examination and assessing your sleep history; you may also be asked to undergo a sleep study. If your symptoms warrant a diagnosis, you and your doctor will create a treatment plan that is tailored to you and your unique needs. Everyone’s treatment plan is different, and the interventions included are based on the challenges you are experiencing.
Elements of your treatment plan may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy or other forms of therapy
- Lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, developing a nighttime routine)
- Medical equipment such as a CPAP to address breathing issues during sleep
- Natural supplements
If you are experiencing a sleep disorder, don’t wait to contact your doctor. Help and treatment options are available to you. If medication is part of your treatment plan and you are worried about paying for your prescriptions, ScriptSave WellRx can help save you up to 80% on your prescription medications.
Most people who use ScriptSave prescription savings card save around 65%. The amount you save varies based on your zip code and the medications you need. ScriptSave has been helping people save money on their prescription medications for nearly 30 years.
Jacquelyn B. began writing at the age of 10 when she won a county-wide essay contest explaining why her mother is worth her weight in gold. Since then, she has written for several newspapers and a health and wellness blog. Her education and experience is in mental health and addiction. She is a licensed counselor and currently provides therapeutic services on an outpatient basis. Her counseling and substance abuse experience includes inpatient residential, in-home, and early recovery counseling. She is a certified addiction specialist and is working on obtaining her certification in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She also specializes in working with pregnant and post-partum women and has received advanced training on women's health.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep.
- National Institute of Health. (2021). Good sleep for good health.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Sleep and sleep disorders: How much sleep do I need?
- Hemels, M.E., Medic, G., & Willie, M. (2017). Short-and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nature and Science of Sleep, 9, p.151-161.
- National Library of Medicine. (2020). Sleep disorders.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). How does sleep affect your heart health?