You know you need more sleep — here’s why it’s more important than you think

Dr. Federico Cerrone rattles off the benefits of getting the right amount of sleep.

Simply put, the amount of quality sleep you get impacts:

  • Your ability to think and function;
  • Your mood;
  • Your immune system;
  • Your weight;
  • And, yes, potentially, your life expectancy.

Here’s what also is true: Making a resolution to get more sleep is just as ineffective a solution as trying to “catch up” on the weekends.

Now that we’re past the holidays and back into our normal routines, ROI-NJ decided to speak with Cerrone, the co-chair of the Atlantic Health System pulmonary integrated care committee and medical director of sleep and breathing disorders, to find out how we can all get more rest.

His No. 1 piece of advice: Establish a sleep routine.

“It’s all about behavior and training your body,” he said. “You have to build time for sleep into your regular schedule.

“We give our kids a bedtime; we need to give ourselves a bedtime, too. More than that, we have to give our body time to prepare for sleep; spend at least 30 minutes winding down.”

Cerrone had plenty to say about midday naps (can be good, if done right), alcohol (not a sleep aid) and caffeine (yeah, it matters). Here’s a look at the conversation, edited for space and clarity.

ROI-NJ: Let’s start with the biggest question of all: How important is sleep?

Federico Cerrone: Everything involving your health starts with sleeping. We know now that sleep affects your immune system and your overall health, everything from your overall cognition to your mood. You name it, I can tie it to sleep.

Then there are things like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and other things out there that people have heard about, but don’t really pay attention to. A lot of people attribute issues to something else, like the stress of work and family.

And it’s only getting worse. Working from home definitely has impacted sleep schedules. A lot of my patients have trouble disconnecting — they’re always working, working more actually, because they can’t find those boundaries. That’s harmful. If you don’t sleep enough, it’s definitely going to affect the way you feel.

ROI: Let’s talk solutions. Let’s talk disconnecting. You mentioned preparing your body for sleep, getting a sleep routine, learning to wind down: How does someone do that?

FC: We tell everybody that at least a half-hour before bed, if not an hour, you have to start shutting down and preparing the body for sleep. It’s start with the electronics, especially the electronics where you are engaging. If you’re texting or sending emails, you’re not letting your brain calm down.

How caffeine and alcohol impact sleep

Many of us drink too much coffee — or too much alcohol. We asked Dr. Federico Cerrone, the co-chair of the Atlantic Health System pulmonary integrated care committee and medical director of sleep and breathing disorders, for his thoughts on both:

  • Caffeine: One of the first things we tell people who are having trouble sleeping is to cut back on caffeine — even though most people will tell me it doesn’t affect them. But, if you’re having trouble sleeping, then, maybe it does, and you just don’t realize it. We tell people to limit caffeine to the morning hours, maybe one or two cups.
  • Alcohol: It’s a very good sedative for putting you to sleep, but, once you metabolize it, alcohol acts like a stimulant during sleep. So, it’s a big sleep interrupter for people. And if you have something like sleep apnea, it could actually make it worse. We try to get people away from the alcohol close to bedtime — and definitely try to stop them from using it as a sleep aid for sleep.

ROI: What about TV? So many people like to use that to relax before bed.

FC: That can be engaging, too. If people are watching the news, they may get really mad or angry or upset at what they are seeing. And, if they are watching a movie, they may get engaged, so that could delay sleep. So, you’re fighting against yourself.

ROI: We get the screen time — everyone understands that issue. But, then, there’s the issue of just finding time. How big of a problem is that? And how do you help people deal with it?

FC: Most people’s schedules don’t allow them to sleep in, so we work on the front end. If someone tells me they go to bed at 11:30, I’ll tell them to go to bed at 11:15 for a few nights, let your body used to that, and then we’ll work our way back very slowly to see if you can get enough sleep on a regular basis.

ROI: Why can’t we do what we normally do to get more sleep. A lot of us “catch up” on weekends by crashing on the couch for a nap during the afternoon — or “sleeping in” in the morning. Does that help?

FC: It doesn’t — because you’re not really catching up. It’s much better to be on a regular schedule, instead of going up and down all the time. There’s nothing wrong with the power nap, 20-25 minutes. The problem is, once you go longer than that and start getting into a deeper sleep — your REM periods — that throws you off at night. So, it’s a temporary fix. You may feel better, but then it throws off your cycle again.

ROI: Let’s go through a visit. When someone comes to see you, how does the first intake go?

FC: It’s basically going through their sleep patterns: What time they go to bed, what’s their bedtime routine? You can learn a lot. We’re trying to find out if maybe there is something going on during sleep that’s affecting them, like sleep apnea, or making people realize they’ve gotten into a bad routine — like falling asleep on the couch.

I hate to use the term bad routine. We talk about getting into a good routine for sleep, educating them on how to do that.

A lot of people will say, ‘I’ve been this way for years,’ and they think it’s hopeless. But it’s not hopeless.

ROI: OK. We’re all in. How long will it take to change our sleep pattern?

FC: If you really want to know how much sleep you really need, you probably need to change your routine for a month to figure it out — your body will tell you.

You have to let your body go. That means go to bed the same time, no alarm clocks, and see what happens. A lot of people say they can’t sleep in the morning, but they don’t necessarily try. You need to make an effort to find the right routine.

For most people, it’s a matter of finding that downtime. A lot of people say that, between working and the kids, they don’t get have time for down time. Well, you’ve got to make time. You’ve got to figure it out. Your health depends on it.

ROI: How much so? Tell us again how changing your sleep routine can help your health.

FC: A lot of people say, ‘I don’t need that much sleep.’ But, all the studies show now that, if you don’t sleep enough, even if you sleep well, it affects your body.

We know that sleep is tied into memory — and if you get less than six hours, it can impact your cognition. And then, there are things like sleep apnea. We know it can affect your heart; we know it can put you more risk for stroke.

Just getting good sleep will help your overall health. Sleeping better will definitely give you a much better chance of living longer.