The 2011 Sleep in America poll (National Sleep Foundation) found some rather astounding statistics about how well Americans are sleeping:
- Sixty percent of the Americans (ages 13-64) say they experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night (i.e. snoring, waking in the night, waking up too early, or feeling un-refreshed when they get up in the morning).
- Sixty-three percent of Americans say their sleep needs are not being met during the week; most say they need about 7 hours of sleep to feel their best but report getting less.
- Almost everyone surveyed (95%) uses some type of electronics like a TV, computer, video game, or cell phone at least a few nights a week within the hour before bed.
- About one in five of the 13-29 years olds say they are awakened after they go to bed by a cell phone call, text message, or email at least a few nights a week.
- When asked to evaluate the day after getting inadequate sleep, 85% said it affects their mood, 72% said it affects their family life or home responsibilities, and 68% said it affects their social life.
If you are one of those who often have difficulty sleeping at night or feel sleepy the next day, you need to address your sleep problem as chronic sleep deficit will cause havoc to your health. Below are some suggestions that may help enhance your sleep.
Why Sleep Is Critical To Health
Sleep is one of the great mysteries of life. Although we are learning more about it every day, we still don’t fully understand the purposes and mechanisms of sleep. However, we do know that good sleep is one of the cornerstones of good health.
In humans, the sleeping clock is controlled by your circadian rhythm, which has evolved over hundreds of generations to align your bodily functions with your environment. Your body clock is set to sleep at night and stay awake during daylight hours, just like your ancestors did. Therefore, if you are a night-shift worker, this upside-down schedule can eventually take a serious toll on your health if you continue to live out of synch with your daily surroundings.
Most adults require 7-9 hours of sleep, while teens (10-17 years) need 8.5-9.25 hours and school-age children (5-10 years) 10-11 hours. If you seldom get enough sleep during the week, sleeping in on weekends can relieve some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
However, cumulative sleep debt cannot be repaid by merely a couple nights of catching up. The chronic deficit of high quality sleep changes your hormone production and metabolism and has far reaching effects on your immune, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems.
Dramatically weaken your immune system
- Studies show that sleep-deprived mammals have lower white blood cell count, which is essential in fighting diseases.
- Your body produces less melatonin, a sleep hormone and an antioxidant. Melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to cancer; that’s why tumors grow faster when you sleep poorly.
Increase your risk of diabetes
People who are sleep deprived tend to crave more sweet and starchy foods. These cravings stem from the fact that your brain is fueled by glucose or blood sugar. When there is not enough sleep, your brain searches for carbohydrates and makes you feel hungry, even if you have already eaten. Sleep deprivation can also impair your insulin sensitivity and put you at a higher risk for diabetes.
Hypertension and heart disease
Chronic sleep loss may not only hasten the onset but also increase the severity of these age-related ailments.
When you are sleep deprived, your body decreases production of leptin (hormone that signals fullness) and increases levels of ghrelin (hormone that signals hunger). You end up feeling more hungry and eating more.
Sleep deprivation prematurely ages you by interfering with the production of growth hormones. Growth hormones are secreted during deep sleep and they make you look and feel younger.
Seriously impair your brain function
Even a single night of poor sleep can impact your ability to think clearly the following day. It impairs your performance on physical and mental tasks, decreases your problem solving ability, and affects your memory.
In short, if you are not getting enough sleep or not sleeping well, you need to address the cause of your problem. The following are some suggestions on how to improve your sleep.
Healthy Sleep Advice
The secret to getting good sleep every night may vary from person to person; what works for some may not work as well for others. The key is to experiment and discover your personal sleep-promoting techniques. With improved quality of sleep, you can strive to get the right amount of sleep so that you will be able to function at your best.
Change Your Sleep Habits And Environment
- Go to bed before 11 p.m. as your body (particularly your adrenal glands) does most of its recharge work during the hours between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. Your liver also works to remove toxins during the same period. If you are awake, you can disrupt many important rejuvenating functions in the body.
- Set and stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on weekends.
- Avoid external stimulation an hour before bed time. Turn off the TV and put away your work, computer, cell phone, and video games. Use this time to relax, wind down, and prepare for bed. Taking a hot bath, listening to relaxing music, or meditating are good ways to clear your thoughts before bed. You may also keep a journal by your bedside to write down all your thoughts and unload your mental burdens.
- Sleep in complete darkness or wear an eye mask. The tiniest bit of light can disrupt your internal clock. Therefore, close your bedroom door, cover the windows with blackout shades, switch off the light on the clock radio, and get rid of night-lights.
- Keep the bedroom temperature between 60-68 degrees. A cooler bedroom is more conducive to sleep as it mimics your body’s natural temperature drop while you sleep.
Change Your Diet And Lifestyle
- Avoid stimulants like caffeinated beverages, chocolate, and tobacco in late afternoon and evening. However, for some people who do not metabolize the caffeine efficiently, a cup of coffee in the morning can still lead to compromised sleep at night.
- Avoid alcohol at dinner time. Alcohol helps you fall asleep quickly and deepens sleep initially, but later on it disrupts sleep and causes middle-of-the-night wake-ups. Alcohol also affects women more than men as women do not metabolize the alcohol as efficiently.
- Avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Try to make dinner earlier in the evening. Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up.
- Avoid eating sugar and refined carbs before bed. The rise in blood sugar may inhibit sleep. Later, when blood sugar drops too low, you may wake up and not be able to fall asleep again.
- Eat a high-protein snack 1-2 hours before bed. The protein provides the tryptophan that is needed to produce melatonin which promotes sleep. The old adage of drinking a glass of milk before bed is indeed helpful.
- Be aware that many prescription and over-the-counter drugs adversely affect sleep. Discuss with your healthcare professional about other natural and non-drug alternatives if the drugs are affecting your sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise improves sleep, however, don’t exercise too close to bed time as it may keep you awake.
- Learn to relax. If you are having trouble falling or staying asleep because your mind is racing or you are emotionally overwhelmed, practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery (or visualization), meditation, yoga, or tai chi to relieve stress. A soothing massage will also help to release any tension in your body.
Other Health Considerations
- If you are overweight and have a snoring problem, check for sleep apnea. This sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep can severely impair your sleep.
- If you suffer from any gastrointestinal problems such as bloating, gas, and heartburn, check for food sensitivities.
- If you are peri-menopausal or menopausal, your hormonal changes may cause sleep problems. Check with your healthcare professional regarding the use of herbs, supplements, and/or bio-identical hormones for symptom relief.
- Sleep is vital to your well-being.
- Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
- A sleep debt cannot be repaid by just a couple nights of catching up.
- Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to diabetes, weakened immune system, hypertension and heart disease, weight gain, accelerated aging, and impairment of your brain function.
- If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, you need to examine your sleep habits and environment as well as your diet and lifestyle.