Insufficient sleep is becoming a pandemic in the U.S. Each day, millions of adults don’t receive enough sleep at night, choosing instead to work on projects or attend events. Hawaii has the highest percentage of adults with insufficient sleep at over 42.9%— that’s almost half the population.
The average adult needs between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. We’ll explore the causes and effects of poor sleep and provide tips on how to achieve better rest.
There are over 80 types of sleep disorders, impacting over 70 million Americans. The top three sleep disorders are insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.
Insomnia is when a person struggles to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. Stress is a major cause of insomnia, with many up late worrying over finances, work responsibilities, and life events.
Sleep apnea occurs when airways are blocked during sleep. A person can wake several times a night to force air into the lungs but have no recollection of these occurrences.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is when a person feels an uncomfortable sensation in their legs and has an irresistible urge to move them.
Poor Sleep Hygiene
Most likely, insufficient sleep is linked to poor sleep habits, like eating late and scrolling through electronic devices. These habits delay sleep and disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle.
All electronic devices give off blue light, a type of light with strong wavelengths that are more penetrating than other types of light. Blue light exposure at night reduces melatonin production and makes it harder to fall asleep. Many people sleep with or next to their phones.
Eating heavy meals or large snacks after 8 pm makes it harder to fall asleep because these types of foods are more difficult to digest. To prepare for sleep, the body’s functions slow down— when large amounts of food are consumed, the body is torn between preparing for sleep and digestion. In focusing more on digestion, it’s harder to fall asleep. Eating late at night could also lead to indigestion and acid reflux.
Consequences of Poor Sleep
Many feel that they can fully function with less sleep, but the fact is, you can’t. You need sleep to restore the body, both physically and mentally. With less sleep, you won’t be as alert or able to function as you normally would.
Less sleep leads to daytime drowsiness— the thought process slows down, memory is impaired, and a person is more prone to accidents, particularly when driving, as reaction times are hindered, too.
Since less sleep leads to poor decisions, a person is more likely to choose foods high in fat to satisfy cravings. These types of food only increase your desire for more junk food.
Since many stay up late, there’s a higher chance of eating late. Studies show that eating regularly after 8 pm adds 2 extra inches to the waistline.
People getting less than 6 hours of sleep are also less likely to exercise, lacking motivation and energy.
Less sleep is linked to health problems, including heart disease, risk of stroke, and diabetes. Not getting enough sleep may not seem like a big deal, especially for those who sleep late on the weekends, but over time the effects of sleep loss accumulate.
Heart disease is a range of conditions afflicting the heart.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly blocked.
Diabetes is a disease that happens when sugar levels are too high in the bloodstream.
Achieving Better Sleep
Better sleep starts with better sleep hygiene. In most cases, those who struggle with sleep don’t set a bedtime routine to induce sleep. Tips, like setting a bedtime, avoiding caffeine consumption, eating early, limiting blue light exposure, and keeping the right sleep atmosphere, helps individuals fall asleep and stay asleep.
Setting a bedtime establishes a rhythm to improve sleep. Your body will start to feel drowsy as the time for sleep approaches, plus you’ll be more alert the next day by waking up at the same time.
Caffeine is a stimulant that blocks adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a chemical that causes sleepiness, promoting alertness and delaying sleep. Avoid consuming caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
For best practices, it’s recommended to eat dinner at least three hours before bedtime. Eating earlier ensures food is digested before bed, and that the body can focus on preparing for sleep.
Use CPAP Machine
If you’re suffering from sleep apnea, consider getting a good CPAP machine to help increase the pressure in your throat so that your airway doesn’t collapse when you breathe in. This would help minimize waking in the middle of the night to force air into the lungs.
Limit Blue Light Exposure
Avoid blue light exposure by turning off or keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom. Blue light may hinder the production of melatonin, a key hormone to induce sleep.
Winding down and doing light activities to relax can relieve muscle tension and soothe nerves. These activities include light stretching, reading, and writing in a journal.
Bedroom for Sleep Only
Keeping work, exercise, and other activities outside the bedroom helps your consciousness associate the bedroom with sleep only, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
Cool and Dark
Keep light out of the bedroom during sleep— light reduces melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
The body naturally drops 1 to 3 degrees in temperature to induce deep sleep. The ideal room temperature for the best sleep is 67 degrees. For better temperature regulation, sleep with an open window or have a fan running to circulate air. Bedding made from breathable materials, like cotton, also helps regulate temperature.
Lifestyle changes ensure better sleep— having a set bedtime, eating earlier, and limiting blue light exposure can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. For those who continue to struggle with sleep, instead of taking sleep aids or supplements, talk with your healthcare professional— the problem may stem from an underlying medical condition.