A Good Night’s Sleep
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 millions Americans of all ages suffer from chronic sleep problems. Trouble falling or staying asleep is the most common issue followed by a wide range of others:
- Sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep loss due to TV, computer, and cell phone use
Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep to function at their best. Anything less increases the risk of work inefficiency, irritable mood, accidents, and ill health. Although genetics and aging affect our basic sleep rhythms, scientists have observed that certain developmental phases require different amounts of sleep.
Childhood—Between age 7 and puberty melatonin production peaks and sleep at this age is usually deep and restorative. Ten hours of sleep is generally adequate for this group.
Adolescence—This age group often shows signs of tiredness during the day because of rapid growth and development. Eleven hours of sleep is desirable for teens, but most are lucky if they get nine.
Adulthood—Since 1910, the average length of time Americans spend sleeping has dropped from approximately nine hours to about seven hours today.
Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
A number of studies have linked long-term sleep deficits with significant health problems.
- Viral infections: People who slept less than seven hours per night on average were three times more likely to get sick as those who averaged at least eight hours.
- Weight gain: According to an article in the journal Obesity, not getting enough sleep makes you more likely to gain weight. The link appears to be very strong among children. Lack of proper sleep can disrupt hormones that control hunger and appetite.
- Diabetes: Diabetes Care found a sharp increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes in people with persistent insomnia.
- Heart disease: Sleep deprivation results in an increase to blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides, all contributing factors to heart disease. Sleep apnea can trigger irregular heartbeat and increase the risk of stroke and heart failure.
- Mental illness: Sleep problems in teenagers and adults increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety.
Simple Ways to Improve Sleep
There are many factors which interfere with a good night’s sleep. A rotating work schedule or important project may keep us tossing and turning. Our daytime habits may hold the key to solving the nighttime blues. Try some of these tips to improve the quality of your sleep.
Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. Caffeine also increases the need to urinate during the night.
Stop smoking or chewing tobacco. Nicotine is a central nervous system stimulant that can cause insomnia. People who kick the habit fall asleep more quickly and wake less often during the night.
Use alcohol sparingly. Alcohol suppresses REM sleep, a necessary phase of sleep for brain function. Alcohol is responsible for as much as 10% of chronic insomnia cases. Alcohol can worsen snoring and other nocturnal breathing problems.
Be physically active. Regular aerobic exercise provides three important sleep benefits: you fall asleep faster, sleep more deeply, and awaken less often at night.
Improve your sleep surroundings. Remove the television, telephone, and office equipment from the bedroom. Minimal clutter as well as a room that is quiet, dark, and cool promotes a good night’s sleep.
Stick to a regular schedule. People with regular sleep patterns report fewer problems with insomnia and fewer depressive symptoms.
Reduce stress. If work, relationship, financial or other concerns are keeping you awake at night, ask for help. Your EAP is a good place to start.
Sleep is not a luxury but a basic component of a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you allow enough time for sleep and stick to a regular schedule as much as possible. Sleep is a quality-of-life issue. Most importantly, seek a doctor’s help if you are experiencing persistent problems in obtaining a good night’s sleep and conventional steps to change the situation are not working.