Why is it Americans don’t get enough sleep? Basically, because we do not fully appreciate its importance and then act accordingly. We think of sleep as just a time-out, in contrast to the emphasis we put on each day’s activities.
Yet deprive yourself of sleep and not only will your mind be less sharp, your immune system will not protect you from diseases, your metabolism is thrown off balance, you are more likely to put on weight, and your skin and eyes will look tired. In short, you feel lousy.
But you have the solutions. Take a few actions. Create better conditions for sleep. Small changes can make a big difference to your sleep and your life.
Common Sleep Problems
• Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep, is the most common sleep problem for adult Americans; 54% experience at least one symptom of insomnia a few nights a week and 33% almost every night. These people feel constantly tired yet don’t feel the urge to sleep.
• Insomnia - you may fall asleep but wake up and cannot go back to sleep. This may be due to several things, including needing to urinate, having inconsistent sleep patterns caused by drinking alcoholic beverages, or are worried about something. You may be awakened by restless leg syndrome, a bad dream, suffer from depression, or may be affected adversely by a medication.
• Your sleep is disturbed by sleep apnea. Apnea is when you stop breathing while you are asleep, sometimes snore, gasp and go right back to sleep again without even realizing what happened. Sleep apnea is most common in overweight people and affects almost 7% of Americans. Those with untreated apnea feel tired due to their ainability to get sound sleep. Because of their sleep deprivation they are 2 to 7 times more likely to have a car accident than the general population. The good news is that you can get tested, diagnosed and treated.
• Sleep deprivation – getting less than 7 to 8 hours of sleep for most people – may develop as a result of general, poor sleep habits like staying up late and getting up early to go to work. Even 20 minutes less sleep per night than required results in cumulative sleep loss. And the truth is that it’s very hard to make it up just by sleeping in on weekends.
Sleep Solutions: A check-list of do’s and don’ts
• Plan for sleep as you plan for your day. Be active throughout the day if you want to sleep at night.
• Set the stage. Make your bedroom welcoming and tidy, and your bed, pillows and bedclothes comfortable. Rotate your mattress and replace your bed as often as you might change your car. You spend one third of your life in it.
• Get consistent with bed- and wake-up times. Don’t sleep in a chair in forn of the TV. When you begin to feel sleepy, go to bed.
• Winding down from the day’s activities will help you relax, fall asleep and stay asleep.
o Do not intake caffeine after 3pm.
o Do not drink anything for two hours before bedtime to avoid the need to pee.
o Do not exercise in the evening. It will keep you awake.
o Limit alcoholic beverages and don’t drink any within 3 hours of bedtime.
o Dim lights of your sitting room two hours before bed; use reading lights if needed. Darkness allows melatonin to increase.
o If you get up in the night, use night lights only.
o Do not make or accept phone calls from anyone for one hour before bed-time Similarly, do not enter into decision-making or problem-solving discussions late in the evening.
o If you watch TV before bed-time avoid disturbing programs.
o Never watch TV in the bedroom.
• If you want to read, use a reading lamp, aimed at the book not your face.
• Turn down the thermostat before going to bed in colder months. Programmable thermostats will take care of this for you, and can be set to turn the heat back on, prior to your rising.
• Apply stress-relieving techniques like breathing exercises if you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep within 20 minutes .
o Ask yourself “what is worrying me?” and if you can do can do nothing about it at the time, make a note of it and resolve to attend to it during waking hours.
o Get up and do something relaxing and satisfying like listening to quiet soothing music, until you feel sleepy again.
o Keep the lights low and avoid drinking anything.
• See your doctor if you think you have apnea or restless leg syndrome and get tested. For apnea, a device called CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) helps you breathe during sleep. Restless leg can be reduced with increased exercise during the day or medication during the night. Consult with your doctor.
You are the one with the ability to improve the quality of your sleep and your life. Begin by paying more attention to how you feel and why you feel this way. Take ownership of your sleep and being to make small adjustments in the way you approach it. Sleep is the time for body and brain to reboot from the day’s work and restore. Sleep and wakefulness serve different functions. Both are needed for balanced wellbeing.