Not Enough Sleep? It’s a Public Health Epidemic… REALLY

Sleep.  We’re all sure we never get enough of it, but the fact is that no one really knows what “enough” is.  Is the standard 8 hours really what is necessary for normal function?  Does it have to be 8 hours in a row?  And what if you are recuperating from illness or injury?  Do you need more?

Well, the answer is not that black and white. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that although most adults need 7-8 hours a night, some people may need as few as 5 while others require 9-10 hours each day for prime functioning.  Most are in agreement, however, that it’s not one bad night of sleep that causes problems, but the cumulative effect of sleep deprivation that has the most impact on performance and mood.

According to CDC statistics, an estimated 50,000-70,000 adults have some type of sleep disorder, making insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.  An epidemic?  Really?  If you thought that term was reserved for serious threats to our community health, you are correct.  It turns out that sleepiness has some real serious side effects.   Traumatic injuries such as spinal cord injury and brain injury can result from motor vehicle crashes and occupational accidents due to drowsiness, and people with long term sleep insufficiency are more susceptible to chronic illness such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity — conditions that can lead to stroke and increased risk of heart attack.  Sleeplessness is no joke.

There are certainly medical conditions that can impact sleep, and if you are struggling with sleep on a daily basis, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention to help determine the cause.  However, many individuals experience sleep disruptions due to environmental factors that can often easily be addressed.  Here are some tips to consider:

Unplug.  Don’t go to bed with your electronic devices.  We have a tendency in this instant access world to feel the need to respond immediately to texts, emails and notifications.  Eliminate the possibly of something else popping up that you need to worry about and turn those devices off well before bed.  You do not need to defeat the next level of Candy Crush TONIGHT.

Schedule your sleep.  Yes, even on the weekends.  As much as possible, have a set sleep and wake time.  It assures more consistency with meal times and other factors that have a big impact on good sleep habits.  If you had a late Friday night, rather than spending your Saturday morning in bed until 1:00, it’s better to get up and at ‘em at your typical wake time and take a short afternoon nap to get through the day.

Don’t rev up to shut down.  Avoid large meals, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and high energy activity in the several hours before bed.  What?!  You might say… but that’s how I spend my Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights!  Well, if you’re having serious trouble sleeping, you may want to consider some changes to your evening routine.

Exercise regularly.  You’re tired because you can’t sleep.  You don’t exercise because you’re tired. Break the cycle and find a time to exercise routinely (not late at night though).  Routine exercise has been shown to do worlds of good for promoting a peaceful night’s sleep.

Establish a calming pre-sleep routine.  Whether it’s reading a book (not emails), taking a relaxing bath, or some other quiet ritual, whatever helps your body to shut down will do wonders to ease your ability to get to sleep.

Making some relatively simple changes can often have a big impact on getting your shut eye.  Have any suggestions that work well for you?  Let us know!

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