Sleep Well to Stay Healthy and Safe

Sleep Well to Stay Healthy and Safe

Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, MA, MS/LIS
Posted December 22, 2016


Sleeping is a basic human need, like breathing, eating, and drinking. Yet, sleep is often the first thing that busy people limit in their daily routines.

A common myth is that people can learn to get by on little sleep with no negative effects. However, scientific research shows that getting enough high-quality sleep at the right times is vital for physical health, mental health, and safety.

Sleep enhances your quality of life. With seven to eight hours of sound sleep each night, you may find that you are happier and more productive during your day.

Your Guide to Healthy Sleep

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) offers a free online guide called, In Brief: Your Guide to Healthy Sleep
The Guide explains why sleep is good for you, and why skimping on sleep is not healthy.

Physical Health

Your body and brain stay active during sleep. For example, sleep helps to repair and heal your heart and blood vessels. When you do not sleep enough, that sleep deficiency increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, obesity, and stroke.

Hormones released during sleep control your body’s use of energy. Scientific studies show that the less sleep people get, the more people prefer eating foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates, which may lead to obesity.

Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. When you routinely do not get enough sleep, your body’s sugar level becomes higher than normal, which may result in diabetes.

Getting too little sleep can also change the way in which your immune system responds. Your immune system defends your body against harmful substances. So, for example, if you get too little sleep, you may have trouble fighting common infections.

Sleep also supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps to repair cells and tissues in children, teens, and adults.

Mental and Emotional Health

While you are sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. During sleep, your brain is forming new pathways to help you to learn and to remember information.

In addition to improving learning, sleep helps you to pay attention, to make decisions, and to be creative.

Sleep also affects your mood, according to the NHLBI. For example, children and teens who do not get enough sleep may have problems getting along with others. They may feel angry, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation.

Scientific studies show that getting enough high-quality sleep changes the activity in some parts of the brain. Sleep helps you to control your emotions, to manage your behavior, and to cope with change.

Safety – What is Micro-Sleep?

What is micro-sleep, and why do you need to know about it? During the daytime, you may experience brief moments of sleep when you are normally awake. These brief moments of sleep, caused by lack of high-quality sleep overnight, are called, micro-sleep, according to the NHLBI.

You may not always be aware when you are micro-sleeping. For example, you may have driven somewhere and then not remembered part of the trip. Or, if you are listening to a lecture, you might miss some of the information or feel that you do not understand the point being made by the person who is speaking. Instead, you may have slept briefly through a part of the lecture.

To some extent, you can control micro-sleep by getting enough sleep. Or, if you know that you have not slept enough, you can learn to become more aware of micro-sleep risks and then take steps to protect yourself and others.

For example, drowsy drivers may feel capable of driving. Yet, studies show that sleep deficiency harms your driving ability as much as, or more than, being drunk. It is estimated that driver sleepiness is a factor in about 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths.

At first, it may seem strange to extend the warning, Do Not Drink and Drive, to the thought, Do Not Sleep and Drive. But, if you think about this before you drive, you might plan for safety. For example, on your driving route, you might plan to visit a transportation rest stop, or take time for a coffee break, or listen to upbeat music in your car.

Six tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

  • Plan and keep a schedule. Go to bed at a set time each night and get up at the same time each morning. If you are in the habit of sleeping later on weekends, plan an activity that will encourage you to get up at your weekday time. For example, you might plan to read a book, or write in a journal, or prepare breakfast with your spouse.
  • Sleep until sunlight. If possible, wake up with the sun. If this is not possible, use bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps your body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day.
  • Exercise. Try to exercise for 30 minutes each day. If your schedule does not allow for 30 minutes at one time, space your exercise into two fifteen minutes sessions. Studies have shown that daily exercise helps people to sleep at night.
  • Stop smoking and limit drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol. Smokers sometimes wake up in the early morning due to nicotine withdrawal. Caffeine acts as a stimulant to keep you awake. Alcohol keeps people in lighter stages of sleep.
  • Relax before bed. With practice, you can train yourself to associate certain restful activities with sleep and make them a part of your bedtime ritual. For example, you could take a warm bath or read or listen to calming music.
  • Make an appointment to talk with your medical doctor. See the NHLBI website called, How to Discuss Sleep with Your Doctor, in the Selected Information Resources that follow this blog post.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or to treat any disease, illness, or other health condition without first consulting with your medical doctor or other healthcare provider.

Selected Information Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Division of Population Health. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Sleep and Sleep Disorders.
Summary Note: CDC Sleep Home Page. Data, statistics, and other resources to promote science-based public policies that improve the sleep health of the U.S. population. Consumer links include Key Sleep Disorders and Sleep Hygiene Tips.
(Accessed 20 December 2016)

Christensen, Matthew A., Laura Bettencourt, Leanne Kaye, Sai T. Moturu, Kaylin T. Nguyen, Jeffrey E. Olgin, Mark J. Pletcher, and Gregory M. Marcus. Direct Measurements of Smartphone Screen-Time: Relationships with Demographics and Sleep. PLoS One. Published online 2016 November 09. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0165331.
Summary Note: Health e-Heart Study of 650 adults measured frequency of smartphone use and compared it to demographics and sleep quality. Study shows that exposure to smartphone screens around bedtime may negatively impact sleep. Study builds on previous research showing that back-lit technologies may lead to non-restorative sleep.
(Accessed Full Text 2016 December 13)

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Mayo Clinic. Healthy Lifestyle. Stress Management. Going the Distance. Surviving the Holidays. Blog posted by Edward T. Creagan, M.D. December 18, 2015.
Summary Note: Medical doctor offers Holiday Season stress management tips, such as, restorative sleep.
(Accessed 05 December 2016)

National Sleep Foundation. Lifestyle.
Summary Note: National Sleep Foundation Lifestyle section includes articles that help consumers to learn healthy sleep behaviors. Topic examples include, How to Sleep Well When Traveling, and How to Deal with Different Sleep Routines. For health professionals, National Sleep Foundation peer-reviewed journal titled, Sleep Health, is available by subscription.
(Accessed 22 December 2016)

Nemours Foundation. All About Sleep.
Summary Note: Discusses topics related to sleep safety and health. Topics are organized by the child’s age, from infancy to teens. Available in English and Spanish. Icon allows sending information by email to a friend or family member.
(Accessed 05 December 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Relaxation Techniques for Health.
Summary Note: Discussion of Relaxation Techniques for Health, including what the science says about the effectiveness, safety, and side effects of relaxation techniques. Includes brief discussion of insomnia and stragegies for getting a good night’s sleep.
(Accessed 13 December 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Sleep Disorders: In Depth.
Summary Note: Information on the usefulness and safety of complementary approaches for sleep disorders. Discusses Mind and Body Practices and Dietary Supplements. Includes Section, titled, Is It a Sleep Disorder or Not Enough Sleep?
(Accessed 13 December 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). In Brief: Your Guide to Healthy Sleep .
Summary Note: NHLBI consumer guide discusses importance of sleep in terms of daily performance, mood, health, and safety. Includes a section called, Could You Have a Sleep Disorder?
(Accessed 05 December 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). How to Discuss Sleep with Your Doctor.
Summary Note: Ask yourself these questions before you talk with your doctor about your sleep habits.
(Accessed 13 December 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Why is Sleep Important?
Summary Note: Discusses sleep in terms of daily emotional, physical, and mental needs. Links to how much sleep is enough and strategies for getting to sleep.
(Accessed 13 December 2016)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.
Summary Note: Discusses the five stages of sleep from Stage One to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Includes
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep.
(Accessed 05 December 2016)