In your fast-paced lives, it is essential to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. Your health and quality of life depend on it! Although the amount of sleep each person needs varies, the average range is 7-8 hours a night. Yet for millions of Americans, getting a good night’s sleep is an elusive goal.
According to the second annual Better Sleep Council Stress Survey (May 2003), 66 percent of Americans were losing sleep due to stress. The number one source of stress reported by survey respondents was family issues. Other causes of stress may include job-related concerns and financial matters. Generally speaking, losing sleep due to stress one or two nights a week will not have a significant effect on a person’s ability to perform. However, lack of sleep three or four days in a row will impact daily activities.
Common Sleep Problems
Insomnia is the most common sleep problem, but what exactly is it? Insomnia can include any of the following characteristics: taking a long time to fall asleep (more than 30-45 minutes); waking up too many times during the night; waking up early and being unable to go back to sleep; or waking up feeling tired. Insomnia usually is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. Insomnia can be linked with other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious, potentially life-threatening, sleep disorder with momentary interruptions in breathing during sleep. An estimated 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Daytime sleepiness and loud snoring at night are indicators that a person may have sleep apnea. A physician specializing in sleep disorders can make a diagnosis and recommend treatment, which ranges from learning to sleep in the correct position to using devices that help keep airways open, taking medication, and having surgery. Sleep apnea is often associated with people who are overweight.
If you are overweight or obese you may have trouble sleeping. Additionally, sleep problems can contribute to obesity by impairing the body’s metabolism and disrupting hormone levels. Poor sleep and sleep deprivation also may increase appetite, which can lead to a vicious cycle of overeating.
Negative Effects of Sleep Loss
Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on health and quality of life in various ways. For example, headaches, eye strain, irritable bowels, increased irritability and stress, increased mistakes, and difficulty concentrating are associated with lack of sleep. Some of the serious consequences that can result from lack of sleep include risk of depressive disorders, impaired breathing, and heart disease. In addition, daytime sleepiness resulting from sleep deprivation is linked to memory deficits, impaired social and occupational functioning, and vehicle crashes.
Tips for Sleeping
If lack of sleep is diminishing your quality of life, consider these tips for improving the quality and quantity of your sleep:
- Make sleep a priority, even if it means leaving some tasks until the next day.
- Develop a regular routine. Doing the same things each night before bedtime signals your brain and body to settle down for sleep.
- Keep your biological clock in check by going to bed and waking up close to the same time each day--even on weekends.
- Maintain a restful bedroom environment. Sleep on a comfortable, supportive mattress and foundation. In addition, sleep in a cool, well-ventilated, dark room that is free from distracting noises. If light is a problem, consider wearing a lightweight sleep mask. A fan or sound machine can block out any unwanted noise.
- Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can help relieve tension and stress. Avoid exercising within 2-3 hours of bedtime, however. The stimulation of the exercise may cause you to have trouble falling asleep.
- Try to expose yourself to natural light in the afternoon each day.
- Reduce your intake of stimulants. Caffeine and certain medications can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
- Do not smoke. Smokers take longer to fall asleep and wake up more often during the night. In addition, nicotine is a stimulant.
- Limit or avoid consumption of alcohol. Drinking alcohol shortly before bedtime tends to interrupt and fragment sleep.
- Worry less. Stress and anxiety tend to wreak havoc on sleep. Find ways to effectively manage stress, and try mental relaxation techniques to alleviate your worries as you are trying to fall asleep.
Marilyn Massey-Stokes, EdD, CHES
Associate Professor, Texas Tech University
American Sleep Apnea Association, www.sleepapnea.org
National Institutes of Health, health.nih.gov
National Institutes of Health, National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/ncsdr/index.htm
National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org
The Better Sleep Council, www.bettersleep.org