Donald Trump claims to get by on three to four hours of sleep every night, about half the amount experts recommend for optimal health. The proof is in the tweeting: The president-elect is notorious for firing off 140-character missives in the wee hours.
But lack of adequate sleep, which was once seen as point of pride for hard-charging tycoons, can be devastating for our health. A study released in February by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, and says “sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.” The CDC goes so far as to classify it as a public-health issue: “Sleep insufficiency [is] linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors.”
We talked to Dr. Neomi Shah, a specialist in internal sleep medicine at Mount Sinai Health System about why getting enough shut-eye is as important to your wellbeing as eating healthy and exercising regularly.
What are some of the reasons people find it hard to fall asleep?
There are things in the day that we do that could also make it hard for one to fall asleep, including the caffeine consumption, which is usually a big one. Coffee in the afternoon will stay in your system long enough so it can interfere with your ability to fall asleep when you actually go to bed at 10 o’clock. … If that's not an issue, obviously, underlying mental health conditions like depression can be a problem or anxiety can also contribute to difficulty either maintaining sleep, falling asleep or early morning awakening.
What should you do if you wake up and can’t fall back asleep?
Lie there for maybe 10 to 15 minutes, maximum 20 minutes. Then, go into another room and do something that's kind of monotonous and boring with a very dim light. Hopefully that will help you get drowsy, and once you're drowsy you go back to your bed and try to fall asleep again. If you can't fall asleep in 15 to 20 minutes, you repeat this. The whole point of doing this exercise is to make sure that you associate your bed with just sleep and nothing else.
What do you think about sleep aids? Prescription drugs like Ambien, and over-the-counter drugs like Benadryl and Tylenol PM?
For insomnia, we recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as the primary treatment. It has the best evidence in terms of efficacy. Ambien is safe in the short term, but long term we would try to work harder to get the CBT. Benadryl's use is not for sleep issues. It's used unfortunately for it, but we have much better ways of treating [insomnia] in terms of medications.
Naps, yea or nay?
I recommend against naps altogether, but if there's someone who needs it, I recommend they set an alarm and take a 20-minute nap.
What behavior is key to getting a good night’s sleep?
The most important piece is to have a routine, to have similar work or wake and sleep hours for all seven days, so that's the No. 1 one thing. No. 2, definitely I would advocate [dedicating] eight hours to sleep, if possible. Then, No. 3 three is to exercise on a routine basis, because exercise helps consolidate sleep.