Helping patients get enough sleep

The amount of sleep a patient needs can vary.
The amount of sleep a patient needs can vary.

Every day, patients ask me how much sleep is appropriate for them. If I say 8 hours and the patient is not sleeping 8 hours, then they assume something is wrong. Over the years, I have learned that the question of how much sleep a person needs can be tricky. Now, I usually tell them that it depends on the person, which is true.

In sleep medicine, we can further complicate things by classifying patients as long sleepers and short sleepers. The description applies to the duration of sleep a person needs. A long sleeper may sleep 10-12 hours, while a short sleeper only sleeps for 6 hours. Of course, this is in a normal individual and not a patient with a sleep disorder.

What really matters is how a patient feels when they wake. Do they feel rested? I often ask the patient to think about their last vacation. What time did they go to bed, and what time did they get up? Taking away the daily stressors in a relaxing environment, how much were they sleeping per night when waking naturally without an alarm clock?

Sleep also varies according to age. The National Sleep Foundation has a free chart on their website that you can print for your patients. This gives a general idea about how much sleep most patients would need per night, on average.

A newborn will need anywhere from 11 to 19 hours of sleep during a 24-hour period. Adults between the ages of 18 and 64 years need between 6 and 10 hours per night. Adults over the age of 65 years need between 5 and 9 hours per night.

If someone is asking the question about how much sleep is appropriate, it may be because they don't feel they are getting enough sleep. Always suggest that they follow good sleep hygiene, which includes:

  • Keeping a regular schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and rise at the same   time every day.
  • Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and free of noise.
  • Stop the use of electronics 1 to 2 hours before bed. Turn off the computer!
  • Don't look at the clock if you have difficulty falling asleep or if you wake during the night.

For something we do for a third of our life, we give sleep little importance. But sleep is important. Unfortunately, many adults are sleeping 6 hours or less per night. Encourage patients to make sleep a priority, since the human body heals during sleep.

Have you had success in teaching patients good sleep hygiene? If so, please share your strategies.

Sharon M. O'Brien, MPAS, PA-C, is a practicing clinician with an interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.

Reference

  1. Sleep duration recommendations. National Sleep Foundation website. http://sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/STREPchanges_1.png. Accessed July 2 2015.
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