Don’t Hit Snooze on your Sleep Hygiene

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Provided by Novant Health UVA Health System

We’ve all experienced that groggy feeling after a night of tossing and turning. However, persistent sleep issues can lead to potentially serious physical and mental health conditions.

According to the Sleep Foundation, almost 50 percent of adults in the United States say they feel tired during the day for at least three to seven days a week. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in three adults don’t get enough sleep.

“A good night’s sleep is important both for your mental and physical health,” said Richard Swift, M.D., a pulmonologist and sleep expert at Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center’s sleep lab. “Sometimes the reality of life doesn’t allow us to prioritize sleep the way we should, but good sleep hygiene and a regular routine can help you feel better and improve your overall health.”

Below, Swift discusses the risks of unproductive sleep and how to improve your slumber.

How does not getting enough sleep affect your physical and mental health?

Quality sleep is essential for your body to be able to operate properly and maintain healthy blood pressure, heart rate, hormone levels and cognitive function. When your body doesn’t get the rest it needs, you develop a condition called sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system and increase your risk for conditions including heart disease, hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Research has proven that people with sleep deprivation are much more likely to be involved in car accidents, due to chronic fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

Sleep deprivation can also be a contributing factor to initiating or worsening mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. The relationship between sleep deprivation and mental health is two-way, meaning they can influence one another.

For example, anxiety can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep which can cause you to become sleep deprived. At the same time, sleep disorders prevent your brain from enduring quality sleep which can initiate or surface underlying mental health conditions, such as depression.

What are the most common sleep disorders?

Obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia are two of the most common sleep disorders among U.S. adults. Sleep apnea is the most common sleep disorder we treat at the sleep lab.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where the muscles in the back of your throat – past the tongue and before the voice box – become more relaxed than they should and the airway becomes partially or fully obstructed, which impacts air flow.

This deprives your brain of oxygen and forces it awake to pull for air, preventing the brain from falling into deep sleep. This condition is typically analyzed and diagnosed with a sleep study. Depending on the severity, treatments can include dental devices, positive airway pressure machines (CPAP), or surgery.

Insomnia is a condition where you are unable to sleep restfully, whether you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. This condition can be onset by a variety of contributing factors, such as stress or medications. Typically, insomnia cannot be examined by a sleep study, but it can be treated by improving sleep hygiene.

What does it mean to have “good sleep hygiene?”

Good sleep hygiene means implementing both a sleep environment and daily routine that encourage consistent, uninterrupted sleep. This includes keeping a stable sleep schedule, making your bedroom a place for sleep and free to distractions, implementing a relaxing wind-down routine and building healthy daytime habits. In other words, it’s applying a daytime and nighttime routine that make you feel sleepy and get you ready for bed.

How can we improve our sleep hygiene?

Maintain a regular sleep schedule. The average adult typically needs seven to eight hours of sleep, so aim to fall asleep and wake up at the same time each day, including weekends, that satisfies the necessary amount.

Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature.

Eliminate all technology – TV, laptops, phones – from the bedroom. No texting, working or video games in bed or right before trying to fall asleep. Your brain needs time to wind down from intense stimulation like this. Try reading or knitting instead.

Avoid heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine and exercise right before bedtime. Stop your caffeine intake after noon and exercise no sooner than three to four hours before going to sleep. This will help maintain a steady heart rate and blood pressure when trying to fall asleep.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep after 30 minutes in bed, get up and go to another low-lit room and do something that disengages your brain. When you start to feel sleepy, return to the bedroom and try falling asleep. Repeat this process if you’re still struggling to fall asleep after 30 minutes.

When should someone seek treatment?

If your daily life is inhibited by chronic fatigue, start a conversation with your doctor. It’s important to talk to your primary care physician sooner rather than later to avoid the frustration and potential health conditions that come with lack of sleep.

Also, talk to your sleep partner to see if they notice anything irregular. Most often, my patients are referred to the sleep lab after their spouses notice an increase in snoring or irregular breathing throughout the night.

For more information about sleep health and services at Novant Health UVA Health System, visit


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