The Doctor is In

By Damon Raskin, M.D. | Special to the Palisadian-Post

Q: I’m a 21-year-old female and according to my phone, I had an average of 2 hours and 30 minutes of sleep over January and February. When I’m really tired, I can sleep four or six hours, but most days I’m not getting that much. I work an average of 70 hours per week and I’m on medication for ADHD—could that have something to do with it? Do I need more sleep than this to survive? I’m not overly tired on a day-to-day basis, but what will happen in the future?

Robert Heinlein, the American science fiction writer, once said, “Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.”

So, this makes your question relevant to both your health and your happiness! Sleep is a vital indicator of overall health and well being. We spend up to one-third of our lives asleep, but too few of us place a priority on getting those quality hours beneath the sheets.

Just like many of us, your long hours at work and your use of stimulant medications definitely have an impact on both your quality and quantity of sleep.

If your watch is accurate, you are not getting anywhere near the amount of sleep that a 21-year-old should have for optimum health.

The National Sleep Foundation recently released a world-class report with recommendations for how much sleep the average person should get by age. Although the numbers can vary by individual, this science-based report states that younger adults aged 18 to 25 should sleep between seven and nine hours per night.

Although you say you feel OK most days, pay careful attention to your mood, energy and health after a poor night’s sleep versus a good one. I bet you will notice a difference.

You may be asking why you need more sleep … what will you get out of it? There are so many benefits that I will list a few for you.

Many don’t realize that more sleep can improve your memory, as the brain consolidates what you have learned during waking hours and helps you store these lessons for future use. In addition, more sleep at night will help you feel more clear-headed, alert and reduce your risks of daytime accidents.

Physically, less sleep is associated with higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins, which have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and arthritis. In addition, less sleep makes it difficult to lose weight and can slow your metabolism.

Emotionally, there is a clear link between sleep and mood. Less sleep has been shown to contribute to both depression and anxiety. In addition, those long hours at work can make you more anxious, and that cannot be made up with getting more sleep on weekends.

So, what are some ways to get a better night’s sleep? Stick to a sleep schedule that remains the same nightly, even on weekends. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual like meditation, listening to soothing music or taking a warm bath.

Make sure the bedroom is comfortable, quiet and dark. Exercise daily, if possible, and turn off all of your electronics before going to bed. Finally, minimize alcohol, caffeine and other drugs, which may be stealing away your precious sleep hours.

The fact that you are using your phone to follow your sleep patterns implies you are perhaps invested in understanding your sleep patterns and making some changes for the better. Listen to that voice in your head that knows something has to change with your sleep habits.

If you continue to struggle, please discuss this with your doctor. There are certain medical conditions that may be contributing to your lack of sleep, and there may be better options to help with your ADD.

Then, once you are sleeping more, will you find better health and happiness.