“Your future depends on your dreams, so go to sleep.” – Mesut Barazany

There is nothing like a good night’s sleep. Parents of babies and toddlers are very familiar with this fact, frequently discussing the minutiae of their children’s sleep schedules.

Most parents know that a well-rested child is more agreeable, more cooperative and generally better to be around.

As a clinical psychologist, I have often encountered children identified as distractible, inattentive and irritable (think ADHD), only to learn that they regularly sleep less than six hours nightly, with no set bedtime.

Teachers and child-care providers are well acquainted with this unhappy phenomenon as well.

It is interesting that all too frequently the benefits of healthy sleep are ignored once we hit adulthood. We ignore those benefits at our peril, because when we try to cheat sleep, we only cheat ourselves.

Healthy sleep means seven to eight unbroken hours for most adults. This amount can vary, with some individuals needing nine hours and others feeling great with six hours.

When we are well rested our cortisol levels stay in a healthy range, supporting a number of positive outcomes, including maintaining a healthy weight. Well-rested individuals are sharper cognitively and have better reaction times than their fatigued counterparts.

Healthy sleep supports better mood for most individuals; for persons with psychiatric diagnoses, sleep deprivation can be a trigger that leads to symptom exacerbation.

For those who struggle to get a good night’s sleep, assessing one’s sleep hygiene is an excellent starting point. Ask yourself if you adhere to the following practices:

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule, going to bed at roughly the same time each night.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  • Choose a pre-sleep ritual such as a warm bath or enjoy calming botanicals such as lavender.
  • Maintain a regular (physician-approved) exercise schedule, but do not exercise immediately before going to bed.
  • Avoid light-emitting electronic devices in the hour before sleep. The artificial light from these devices (smartphones, iPads, e-readers, etc.) has been found to disrupt the natural unwinding process preceding sleep.

If you comply with these guidelines and still struggle to get a good night’s sleep, consult with your physician regarding additional treatments. Here’s to the physical and mental benefits of a good night’s sleep, one of nature’s best medicines. Sweet dreams.

Maria Malcolm, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.