Health Matters: Better Sleep for Better Health


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By David B. Cohn, MD

Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night? Do you find yourself dozing off in meetings, or drinking an extra cup of coffee to get through the afternoon?

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If so, you’re not alone.

As many as 70 million Americans are living with a sleep disorder, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

A sleep disorder can have a serious impact on your health and safety, work or school performance and relationships.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take for better sleep.

The Sleep Center at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center offers adults and children comprehensive care for sleep disorders, including diagnosis, treatment and follow up.

Why Does Sleep Matter?

For many people, getting adequate sleep is seen as an indulgence instead of a necessity.

Yet quality sleep is key to staying healthy. Sleep helps repair your brain and body at the end of the day.

Over time, poor sleep raises the likelihood of developing serious health issues including heart problems, obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke.

Poor sleep can also lead to depression and other mental health issues and may affect your ability to concentrate and remember things.

For children and teens, sleep promotes healthy growth and repairs cells and tissues.

Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each night, according to the National Institutes of Health, while children and teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep.

How to Identify and Treat Common Sleep Disorders

If you are consistently sleeping at least seven hours at night but still feel excessively sleepy during the day, it could be a sign of a sleep disorder.

One of the most commonly reported sleep disorders is insomnia, which occurs when a person has trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night. Insomnia that lasts one night to a few weeks is considered acute. Chronic insomnia occurs several nights per week over an extended period.

Additional sleep disorders include:

• Sleep apnea. Repeated obstruction of breathing during sleep.
• Restless leg syndrome. Uncomfortable sensations that cause an urge to move the legs when lying still before bedtime.
• Narcolepsy. A neurologic condition causing extreme daytime sleepiness.

Diagnosing a sleep disorder typically begins with a sleep study either at home or at a designated sleep center. Sleep studies help identify problems by assessing brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing, as well as eye and leg movement.

Once diagnosed, there are treatments available for many common sleep disorders.

Some patients with insomnia benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy which helps with emotional regulation, anxiety and stress. People with sleep apnea may use a CPAP machine, which keeps the airway open to help with breathing.

Depending on the type of sleep disorder a patient is experiencing, special mouthguards and medication may also be prescribed.

Patients with sleep apnea who received little benefit from a CPAP or other treatment options may be candidates for a minimally invasive procedure to surgically implant a device that senses breathing patterns and delivers mild stimulation to the tongue to maintain open airway and promote regular breathing during sleep.

Appropriate candidates for the procedure are age 23 and older, diagnosed with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, have a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 32 or less and are unable to use a CPAP or to derive a consistent benefit from it.

For a select group of patients, this procedure may provide a better quality of life and long-term relief from their obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.

Improve Your Sleep Habits

If you find that you are regularly overtired, there may be simple things you can do to improve your sleep habits.

• Stick to a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends and holidays. Eating and exercising on a schedule can also help regulate your body’s internal clock.

• Design your room for sleep. Create a sleep-friendly environment by blocking light with room-darkening shades; use a white noise machine or earplugs; and keep the temperature below 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Remove distractions. Keep electronic devices including computers, TVs, and smartphones out of your bedroom. Don’t read, write, or eat in bed. That way, when you go to bed, your body knows it is time for sleep.

• Make time for sleep. Allow at least seven hours for sleep each night.

• Watch what you consume. Being too full or hungry can interrupt sleep, so plan meals accordingly. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine for at least four hours prior to bedtime. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it can cause poor-quality sleep later in the night. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can keep you from falling asleep.

• Exercise earlier in the day. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep at night and provides countless health benefits. However, vigorous exercise within four hours of bedtime can stimulate the body and interfere with falling asleep.

• Nap responsibly. Long naps, especially late in the day, can affect nighttime sleep. Limit naps to 20 minutes or less in the morning or early afternoon.

• Avoid long-term use of sleeping pills or over-the-counter sleep aids. Becoming dependent on sleep medicine can interfere with the body’s natural ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

• Rule out a medical condition. Some health conditions, including arthritis, chronic pain, heart disease, or asthma can impact sleep. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse may also disrupt sleep.

If you aren’t already practicing healthy sleep habits, now is the time to start. If you are concerned about your sleep or how your sleep is affecting your health, contact your doctor.

The Sleep Center at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center is fully accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a professional organization dedicated to assuring quality care for patients with sleep disorders, advancement of sleep research and public and professional organizations. Comprehensive services include overnight sleep studies, home sleep studies, daytime sleepiness assessments and individual treatment plans.

To learn more about the Sleep Center at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center call 609-853-7520 or visit

David B. Cohn, MD, is board certified in pulmonary disease and sleep medicine. He is the Medical Director of the Sleep Center at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center.


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