Your Keys to a Better Night's Sleep

What You Need to Know

  • More than 60 million Americans suffer from poor sleep quality, and more than 40 million meet the diagnostic criteria for sleep disorders. 
  • There are more than 80 defined sleeping disorders, ranging from sleep apnea, insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders. 
  • Lack of sleep can negatively affect your memory, concentration, performance, mood and more.
  • Missing out on high-quality sleep boosts your risk for depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and a myriad of other health issues.  
  • According to a National Sleep Foundation poll, 37 percent of people surveyed reported having felt drowsy or falling asleep while driving.

Patient Resources

Ask the Expert: Rachel Salas, M.D.

Rachel Salas

Dr. Rachel Salas is a Johns Hopkins Medicine neurology sleep specialist at Howard County General Hospital. 

How many hours of sleep should I get each night?

You should get 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep a night, although that number can vary based on a variety of factors — some people need less sleep, and some people need a little more. For example, we have an internal clock, known as a circadian rhythm, that guides us to go to bed a certain time and wake up at a certain time. Studies show that if you deviate from that internal clock, you’re going to suffer just like a sleep-deprived person, even though you may think you get enough sleep.

What is a good sleeping environment?

  • For most people, temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and below 54 degrees Fahrenheit will disrupt sleep, but the ideal temperature and climate differ for each person. In general, a slightly cool room induces good sleep. It mimics what occurs inside the body as body temperature drops during the night to its lowest level.

  • Bright lights hinder sleep. Light is a strong regulator of our biological clock and helps to keep us awake during the day. Keep your bedroom dark when you head to bed. Avoid bright lights if you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, or use a flashlight if you need to get up from bed.

  • Give yourself enough space to sleep, choose supple mattresses over firm ones that might cause stiffness and back pain, and replace old mattresses when needed. Choose a pillow that will support your head and neck, and that will be comfortable throughout the night.

What can I do to sleep better?

  • Turn off or put down the electronics before bedtime! Screens with lighting, such as a TV, computer or tablet, stimulate the mind and mess with our natural circadian rhythm. Cutting down on this stimulation allows your body and mind to naturally relax closer to bedtime. Ideally, unplug an hour — but no less than a half-hour — before turning in for the evening.

  • Alcohol and caffeine make it harder to sleep. While alcohol can help you fall asleep, it prevents you from getting the REM sleep you need to feel refreshed, and caffeine can stay in your system for hours. In general, consider abstaining from caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

  • Set up a consistent schedule and stick to it. Going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time — not only during the weekdays, but on the weekends as well — will make a big difference.

  • If you consistently have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, or if you constantly wake up feeling tired, consider seeing a sleep specialist. There are over 80 defined sleeping disorders, and a specialist can help you with specific advice for your individual case.

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Advancements in Sleep Research

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Researchers Identify Gene That Helps Fruit Flies Go to Sleep

In a series of experiments sparked by fruit flies that couldn’t sleep, Johns Hopkins researchers say they have identified a mutant gene — dubbed “Wide Awake” — that sabotages how the biological clock sets the timing for sleep. The finding also led them to the protein made by a normal copy of the gene that promotes sleep early in the night and properly regulates sleep cycles.

Sleep Partner Perks

There is a connection between sleep quality and a couple’s interactions during the day, according to research. It’s a sort of yin and yang: Whereas men have better interactions with their wives the day after a good night of shared sleep, women sleep better at night if they have less conflict with their husbands during the day.

Researchers Identify Brain Differences Linked to Insomnia 

Johns Hopkins researchers report that people with chronic insomnia show more plasticity and activity than good sleepers in the part of the brain that controls movement.

For Mild TBI: An Eye on the Sleepy

Most patients with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) recover. They may experience headache and difficulties with sleeping, memory or thinking, for example, but in a fortunate 70 to 80 percent, “Those signs that they’ve had a brain injury go away,” says psychiatrist Vani Rao. The key to figuring out who will recover and who won't may lie in noting the sleep difficulties that begin soon after mTBI’s causal injury.