As we adjust to daylight savings time, many of us lament our inability to “get enough sleep.” With work, family, health, and just general “life” demands, it can be challenging to meet our sleep needs. On top of this, many people remain unclear about how much sleep they actually need. I’m frequently asked questions such as “When should I go to bed?” “How long should I stay in bed?”, “Can I make up my sleep on the weekends?” and “Why do I feel tired all the time?”
The field of sleep medicine is starting to do a better job of answering these questions and changing the greater conversation with the community.
Doctors—and organizations like the National Sleep Foundation—are encouraging patients and people to see sleep as a pillar of health, much like diet and exercise. When sleep is a priority, everyone wins.
Conversations are shifting – it’s no longer “How little sleep can I get away with?” but rather “How can I improve the sleep that I’m getting?” or “How do I get the tools to know how much sleep is good for me?”
In the National Sleep Foundation’s new journal, Sleep Health, Michael Gradner, PhD, MTR, a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote about “sleep as a vital sign,” sharing his thoughts on what medical practitioners need to routinely ask their patients about sleep.
This is exciting for a number of reasons. There is a tendency in medicine to focus on fixing problems and addressing deficiencies. Gradner certainly addresses these points; he makes the case that the primary benefit of physicians asking about sleep would be the detection and hopefully treatment of disorders.
But as health promotion and prevention research has shown, we need to move beyond the eradication of illness to the promotion of health. Beyond treating sleep disorders, it can be helpful to promote sleep health.
Which brings us back to the question, “What is good sleep?” Sleep medicine is still working to quantify sleep health, but introducing sleep into the medical community’s larger discussion around vital signs and health is a good first start.
With tools like these we can start to answer the question “What is healthy sleep?” When we know what we’re aiming for, we are that much closer to meeting our health goals.