Dr. William Dement, aka the father of sleep medicine, once said that, “You’re not healthy, unless your sleep is healthy.”
When we sleep, we do a lot more than just rest. Our bodies rebuild and heal, and without sleep you can literally go crazy. Needless to say, sleep is absolutely vital to our physical and mental health.
The National Institutes of Health suggest seven to eight hours of sleep each night for adults.
However, most Americans are not getting enough sleep. A 2009 survey of participants from across 12 states found that nearly one-third of adults were getting less than six hours of sleep each night. Furthermore, a 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll found that 43 percent of Americans, between the ages of 13 and 64, reported rarely or never getting a good night’s sleep on the weeknights.
If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep and spend the night tossing and turning, you may be guilty of these five common habits that are keeping you from a good night’s rest.
Curling up in bed with your laptop to finish some work or respond to emails may seem like a pleasant alternative to staying late in the office, but introducing work and the stresses of work into your bed can be detrimental to your sleeping routine. Your bed should be reserved only for sleeping, not for making phones call, watching television, surfing the web or working. By keeping your bed purely a place for sleep, it will be easier to feel calm and relaxed once you lay down to go to bed.
As Russell Rosenberg, chairman of the National Sleep Foundation, told The Wall Street Journal, a work-in-bed habit can “break that bond between sleep and the bedroom,” and trigger or worsen insomnia.
It is a common rule of thumb that in order to get better sleep, avoid consuming caffeine late in the day. But how late is too late? The National Sleep Foundation reports that the average person drinks about 36 ounces of caffeinated drinks each weekday to battle daytime sleepiness, which is 12 more ounces than is recommended. Ironically, this habit perpetuates a negative sleep cycle. Studies have shown that consuming caffeine, as much as six hours before bedtime, has negative effects on sleep duration and ability to fall asleep.
It may seem like alcohol helps you fall asleep, but it is hindering how restful and restorative that sleep is. In the course of the night, a normal sleeper should have six to seven rapid eye movement (REM) cycles. When you drink, it is common to only have one or two REM cycles, leaving you feeling exhausted when you wake up. Drinking in excess also relaxes muscles, including throat muscles, which causes snoring and suppresses breathing. Labored or difficult breathing inhibits restful and productive sleep. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages at least an hour before bed so your body can process the alcohol.
We’ve already mentioned why you should never sleep with you cell phone, but it doesn’t stop there. Artificial light-producing electronics of any kind, like a television, computer, tablet or video game, used before bedtime will negatively impact your sleep. A whopping 95 percent of survey participants reported using some type of electronics within the hour before they go to bed! The light emanated from these screens send signals to your brain that deters it from properly releasing calming hormones needed for a night of natural, quality sleep.
Not only is technology hindering you falling asleep, it is waking you up once you finally drift off. The younger generations, people between the ages of 13 and 29, are more likely to sleep next to their cell phone and be woken up by an incoming text, call or email. Survey results show that this age group has almost twice as many people reporting sleepiness than their elder generations.
Data from the 2013 Sleep in America poll by the National Sleep Foundation supports the notion that exercise is beneficial to your sleep. As a participant’s exercise level increased, their overall sleep quality improved.
Regular exercise also prompts weight loss, a commonly overlooked factor in sleep quality. An estimated 18 million Americans have the sleep-related breathing disorder, sleep apnea. This disorder creates difficulty breathing during sleep and repeatedly stops an individual’s breathing. This disruption seriously affects sleep quality and causes extreme drowsiness and fatigue. It can also lead to stroke, heart attack and congestive heart failure. Sleep apnea is associated with those who are overweight, as weight gain compromises proper respiratory function. Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy body weight will dramatically reduce this problem and improve quality of sleep.