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The Connection Between Sleep and Health

For many, January is a time to take inventory of health and lifestyle behaviors. Eating healthier, being more active, spending more time with family, and quitting smoking are a few of the top behaviors that people choose to change. One very important health behavior to improve upon, that often gets overlooked, is sleep. Research shows a strong connection between the lack of sleep (quality and length) and health and safety risks, such as diabetes, heart disease, depression and accidents.

According to the National Institute of Health, 50–70 million adults have sleep or wakefulness disorders. One third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night. One third of adults are sleepy during daylight hours and 70% of high school students are not getting enough sleep on school nights. Insufficient sleep contributes to $50 billion lost in productivity and it is estimated that 5–6,000 fatal car crashes may be caused by drowsy drivers. These few facts show a glimpse into the impact of sleep.

Through sleep research many health discoveries have come forth related to brain pathways, circadian rhythms (physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness) and sleep apnea. Brain pathways link sleep to our ability to learn, emotional responses and perceptions of emotions in others. The 'Circadian Clock' genes contribute to the health and repair of cells throughout the human body. Sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular complications during pregnancy. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, cancer and high blood pressure are a few health problems in which sleep disorders are associated. Continued research is needed to completely understand the full impact of insufficient sleep on many aspects of our health.

The National Sleep Foundation states that healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in your quality of life. Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good "Sleep Hygiene". Getting 7–8 hours of sleep is optimal, but some people may require more. The first step is to know what your needs are, and then follow these ten tips for a better night's sleep.

  1. Make sleep a priority and keep a consistent bedtime.
  2. Create a bedtime routine that is relaxing.
  3. Create a room that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool for the best possible sleep. Try using black-out curtains and keep the room temperature between 60°-65° F.
  4. Check your mattress and pillow. If your mattress is five to seven years old, it may be the cause of your restless nights.
  5. The bedroom should have two purposes: sleep and intimate acts only.
  6. Exercise regularly, but complete workouts at least two hours before bedtime.
  7. If you sleep with a partner, make sure your mattress has enough room. A full-sized bed only has as much sleeping space as a baby's crib for each person!
  8. Avoid nicotine (e.g., cigarettes, tobacco products) close to bedtime; it can lead to poor sleep.
  9. Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
  10. Finish eating at least two to three hours before bedtime.

Many resources exist to find more information about sleep and health. A Fact Sheet on sleep disorders and insufficient sleep can be found at The National Sleep Foundation can be found at, which also includes another good sleep resource,

Article provided by Dana Breeding, RN Health Educator with Community Outreach.