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Johns Hopkins Health - Sleep on It

Fall 2015
Issue No. 30

Sleep on It

Date: October 9, 2015



Sleep is not a luxury or an indulgence—it’s a basic human need. So say Johns Hopkins sleep experts Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., and Rachel Salas, M.D., who also note that humans are the only animals who willingly deprive themselves of sleep. Skirting by on less than an optimal amount of shut-eye has health implications that range from weight gain to hypertension and diabetes. There’s a lot of misinformation about sleep. We asked these two experts to clear up a few sleep myths.

MYTH 1: I do just fine on five or six hours a night.

It’s possible some of us can manage on that abbreviated rest, but most of us can’t. (Seven to nine hours is optimal for most adults.) If you swear you’re fine, ask yourself: How often do you nod off at meetings, on a train, in front of the TV? If the answer is, Often, that’s your body telling you it’s sleep-deprived. You may be able to compensate, but the effects will catch up to you in the form of health problems and increased susceptibility to accidents, irritability and compromised focus.

MYTH 2: Sleep aids are a great way to get a good night’s sleep.

Yes and no. Sleep aids, either prescription or over the counter, come with risks, which may include dependence. Also, your brain goes through a series of cycles during natural sleep that can’t be mimicked by medication-induced sleep, meaning you won’t get the same restorative benefits. That said, if you’re getting no sleep, these drugs have a place, providing temporary relief until you’re able to restore your natural sleep cycle.

MYTH 3: I’ve heard that exercise interferes with sleep. I can only manage to work out late in the day, so why bother?

When it comes to exercise’s effect on sleep, the best possible time is probably first thing in the morning, and outside. Why? The exercise and the sunlight both trigger “wake up!” signals in your brain. Then you can wind down at the end of the day and sleep more soundly. But recent Johns Hopkins research suggests that exercise at any time of day is beneficial for sleep. In fact, another study found that just one day in which you get moderate exercise has a measurable effect on how deeply you sleep that night. The message: Work out whenever you can.


Upgrade your sleep habits with these expert-approved recommendations.

  • When home at night, keep overhead lights off and use lamps that don’t shine from above; they wreak havoc with your body’s circadian rhythm.
  • Cut off caffeine six hours before bed and rethink having alcohol after dinner; both detract from a full night’s rest (alcohol may make you drowsy, but hours later it can wake you up).
  • Shut down electronics at least 30 minutes before bed; the blue light interferes with your body’s production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. Reading books is fine.
  • Create a calming pre-bed ritual that you’ll use nightly. If you regularly have trouble falling asleep after 30 minutes—or staying asleep—you should investigate what’s keeping you up. Your doctor and/or a sleep behavior therapist can help.


For additional tips on getting a healthier night’s sleep, go to

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