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Are You Getting Enough Sleep? Here’s Why It Matters

October 27, 2020
You know how tired you feel when you don’t get a good night’s sleep, but did you know that sleep problems can have a big impact on your overall health? Stephanie Wappel, MD, a sleep and pulmonary medicine physician at GBMC Health Partners Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine, talked with Good Morning Maryland’s Ashley James about the importance of sleep and what steps you can take if you have sleep issues like insomnia or sleep apnea.

“Sleep is not an on/off switch,” explained Dr. Wappel. “Sleep is an extension of our waking lives. It impacts our health in many ways, affecting our immune system, memory, emotions, ability to learn and retain information, gastrointestinal health, and even our hearts and lungs. That’s why getting an adequate amount of good quality sleep is so important.”

Dr. Wappel shared her advice on how to fall asleep and stay asleep. The most important thing you can do is to keep a consistent bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. Other tips include waiting until you’re sleepy to get in bed, developing a calming bedtime routine that starts about a half hour before you head to bed, and avoiding activities that make you more alert like eating, socializing, and screen time right before bedtime.

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Studies have found that getting less or more sleep than that recommended amount can harm your heart. Asked about natural remedies for sleep problems like melatonin, chamomile, and valerian, Dr. Wappel said that before you try supplements, you should shape up your sleep hygiene and bedtime habits.

“Make sure you’re sleeping in a quiet, dark, cool room,” she said. “No television should be on. If you need background noise to fall asleep, there are white noise machines and apps you can try. The blue light from the television is the same blue light produced by the sun, so it tricks our brains into believing it’s daytime and promotes wakefulness.”

If you’re having sleep problems like ongoing insomnia or loud snoring that could be caused by sleep apnea, talk with your primary care physician who can start the process of figuring out the underlying cause of your issues and refer you to a sleep specialist if necessary.

“We live in a 24/7 culture,” added Dr. Wappel. “There’s always something to watch or do, and we don’t always respect our bodies’ need for sleep, but sleep is an essential part of a healthy life.”
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