Studies show consistently getting adequate sleep improves mental, emotional and physical health in many ways, making sleep just as important to optimizing our health as regular exercise and eating a balanced diet.
How much sleep is enough varies from person to person. The American Sleep Association recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults, yet 35.3% of adults report less than seven hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period.
And, 37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month; 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the preceding month. Insomnia is the most common specific sleep disorder, with short-term issues reported by about 30% of adults and chronic insomnia by 10%.
So why do we struggle so much with getting enough sleep? In a culture where we value busyness, we simply often don’t allow enough time for sleep in our daily routine, but there might be other underlying causes of inadequate sleep. Common causes could include stress, irregular schedules, age, hormonal shifts, diet, lack of exercise, anxiety disorders or depression, medical conditions, medications, caffeine or nicotine and alcohol. Some individuals could suffer from sleep-related disorders such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome.
Not sleeping enough overall or having poor quality sleep affects how we feel and how we function. Short-term effects might include lack of alertness, excessive daytime sleepiness, impaired memory, relationship stress, decreased quality of life and a greater likelihood of car accidents.
Some of the most serious potential problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation are high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Other potential problems include obesity, depression, impairment in immunity and lower sex drive.
A good first step to improving your sleep is to establish a bedtime routine. Bedtime routines play an important role in clearing away stress and anxiety from the day, helping our brains to separate day from night and relaxing into sleep.
Plan to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, then begin your bedtime routine 30 minutes to two hours before your bedtime. Your bedtime routine should be unique to you and your preferences and should be the same every night. Consider including some of the following options:
• Keep your bedroom cool, dark and comfortable.
• Avoid electronics in the evening, especially after you begin your bedtime routine.
• Eat a light dinner no less than 2 hours before bedtime, or consider a light evening snack or warm herbal tea before bed.
• Try light massage, stretching or yoga.
• Take a warm bath one hour before bedtime.
• Listen to music, white noise or pink noise that relaxes you.
• Experiment with a variety of relaxation techniques such as relaxed breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or imagery.
• Practice meditation.
• Learn more about essential oils and natural sleep aids to decide if they’re right for you.
If your sleeping problems are making it hard for you to function during the day and are severe, long-term, or worsening, it’s important to see a doctor for proper evaluation. It might be helpful to keep a sleep diary before your appointment to identify patterns in your daily activities that could be negatively impacting your sleep. Finding ways to improve your sleep will definitely be worth it for improving your overall health and wellness in the short term and the long term.