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Are you getting healthy sleep?

Healthy Sleep

What is healthy sleep?

The American Alliance for Healthy Sleep (AAHS) has stated that healthy sleep duration for each age group is:

  • Infants (4 months to 12 months): 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours

  • Children (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours

  • Children (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours

  • Children (6 to 12 years): 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours

  • Teens (13 to 18 years): 8 to 10 hours per night

  • Adults: 7 hours or more per night

Why is healthy sleep so important?

Healthy sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle as proper sleep, or lack thereof, affects daytime functioning and cognition, physical health, emotional wellness, safety and all aspects of your life.  The importance of healthy sleep can be emphasized by the myriad of health and safety issues associated with poor sleep.

Daytime Functioning and Cognition

You must have sufficient sleep to perform your best. Consistently achieving sub-optimal sleep can lead to:

  • Decrease in attention

  • Decrease in working memory

  • Impaired reasoning skills

  • Increased propensity for errors

  • Slower reaction time

Physical Health

Studies have shown that poor sleep leads to a greater risk for many disease and health issues, including:

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease and hypertension

  • Diabetes

  • Stroke

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Certain cancers

Emotional Wellness

Chronic sleep loss can lead to long term mental health disorders or issues, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Decreased social functioning

  • Suicide Ideation


Due to the decrease in attention and slower reaction times, having consistent poor sleep can lead to increased motor-vehicle and workplace accidents.

How do I get healthy sleep?

See a list of healthy sleep habits to help get a good night’s sleep.

If you think you may have a sleep disorder, speak to your primary care physician or find a sleep specialist at an accredited sleep facility.

Issues Related to Healthy Sleep

Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving is a serious issue that affects everyone on the road.  As the name describes, drowsy driving is essentially driving when sleepy or fatigued.  This can be caused by a number of factors:

  • Not getting enough sleep prior to driving

  • An undiagnosed/treated sleep disorder

  • Side effects of medication

  • Alcohol

  • Shift work

Even if the individual doesn't fall asleep, driving while drowsy has many other consequences, including slower reaction times and paying less attention to the road or surroundings, which can result in an accident if the individual cannot react in sufficient time to correct their behavior.

Up to 6,000 fatal car accidents every year may be caused by drowsy driving.

The AAHS supports programs and legislation aimed at addressing drowsy driving.  For more information, please see the AAHS’s advocacy information addressing this issue.

Sleep Debt

Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep an individual should get and the amount of sleep they actually achieve. There are two categories that sleep debt potentially falls into:  1) Partial sleep deprivation (continually cutting sleep for several days or weeks) and 2) Total sleep deprivation (being awake for at least 24 hours). Continued sleep debt can lead to:

  • Fatigue, lethargy and lack of motivation

  • Clumsiness

  • Moodiness and irritability, increased risk of depression

  • Decreased sex drive; relationship problems

  • Impaired brain activity: learning concentration and memory problems

  • Reduced creativity and problem – solving skills; difficulty making decisions

  • Inability to cope with stress, difficulty managing emotions

  • Premature skin aging

  • Weakened immune system, frequent colds and infections, weight gain

  • Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents, hallucinations and delirium

  • Increased risk of serious health problems

How do you repay your sleep debt?

  • Repay a small amount of sleep debt by sleeping in on the weekends and adding extra sleep to each weeknight until the debt is gone; for long-term sleep debt, if possible, take a vacation for the sole-purpose of sleeping.

  • Institute an earlier bedtime that will allow you to achieve the correct amount of sleep each night and institute other healthy sleep habits to ensure you get the correct amount of sleep each night going forward.

Shift Work

Shift work is work completed during a schedule alternate to the general “9 to 5” work schedule.  According to the Bureau of Labor, almost 15% of full-time and salary workers work a shift-work schedule.  Because these individuals are generally awake during normal sleep hours, their natural circadian rhythm does not match their actual sleep and wake schedule.  This can result in shift workers having chronic sleep loss or possibly suffering from shift work sleep disorder, which includes excessive sleepiness during waking hours and insomnia when the individual is scheduled to sleep.

School Start Times

As teens enter adolescence, their internal circadian rhythm shifts to naturally favor later sleep times (typically 11 pm) and subsequent wake times (7:30 a.m. or later).  With almost half of public U.S. high school start times beginning before 8 a.m., teenagers’ natural circadian rhythms are at odds with the school mandated start times.  This results in chronic sleep loss for teenagers, which results in poor outcomes for students, including:

  • Poor school performance

  • Obesity

  • Increased depression, suicidal tendencies, and risk-taking behaviors

  • Higher vehicle crash risk

  • Increased athletic injuries

The AAHS supports endeavors to change school start times to later times (8:30 a.m. or later) that are in sync with students’ natural sleep and wake patterns.  Find more information on AAHS advocacy for later school start times or visit Start Schools Later, a non-profit organization dedicated to this cause.

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