Who Needs More Sleep?
A recent survey of the National Sleep Foundation (www.sleepfoundation.org) found that, on average, Americans sleep 6.9 hours per night—6.8 hours during the week and 7.4 hours on the weekends. With 8 hours as the recommended average, we are losing one hour a night!
There is no doubt about it, parents are up late at night folding laundry, checking email, making meals, emptying the dishwasher, paying bills—hours after they put the kids to bed. They want to go to bed, but they also don’t want to wake up to a pile of dirty dishes or dirty laundry in the hamper. So, they borrow time from snoozing---and they end up with a sleep deficit that makes our national debt look tiny!
Sleep experts note that the amount of sleep adults need is very “individual”, ranging from 7-9 hours per night. I am fortunate, I suppose, because I feel rested with 6.5-7 hours a night. My wife, on the other hand, absolutely needs 8 hours of sleep to feel good. And, as we age, many of us need less sleep. However, many situational factors can impact the amount of sleep we require on a day to day basis.
In addition to borrowing time from ourselves to finish our long “to do” list, many of us sleep less in order to have more time for ourselves. When my children were younger, I would wake up earlier so I could go out for a 6 a.m. morning run. My wife used to stay up later to read, after everyone was asleep. We both felt that we were scrounging time from ourselves rather than taking time from our children.
Adults are also having trouble falling asleep (insomnia) and sometimes wake up too early in the morning (early morning awakening). According to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health, about 30-40% of adults say they have some symptoms of insomnia within a given year, and about 10-15 percent of adults indicate they have chronic insomnia.
Why are we having trouble falling asleep? There can be many factors---overstimulation, difficulty settling ourselves down at night, stewing about problems (financial, relationship, or otherwise), worry about the future, and poor sleep habits. That late night peek at your email or receiving a text can spin you into wakefulness when you might be settling down for the night.
Waking up a 3 a.m. can also make for a bad night. Once you start thinking about the next day, your boat’s propeller starts to turn even though the engine is out of the water. Then, add worry about not getting enough sleep, and now you have a night of tossing and turning.
So what can we do to feel rested? The American Sleep Association (www.sleepassociation.org) recommends good “sleep hygiene”.
- Make sleep a priority. Sleep deprivation, over the long haul, is bad for your health and happiness.
- Going to bed at the same time and waking at the same time promotes a regular sleep pattern.
- Don’t take naps. They interfere with easy sleep onset.
- Don’t watch TV or read in bed. The bed is reserved for two things only—sleep and you know what!
- Turn off electronic devices 1-2 hours before bedtime. They can be over-stimulating.
- Reduce caffeine consumption overall—especially in the afternoon and early evening.
- Don’t use alcohol to fall asleep. It can cause fragmented sleep.
- Exercise earlier in the day, not before bed time.
- If you wake up in the early morning, and can’t fall back asleep after 10-15 minutes, get out of bed and read or have a cup of herb tea (Chamomile is calming). Only get back into bed when you are ready to sleep.
- Talk to your doctor if insomnia or early morning awakening becomes a chronic problem. Sleep is a right, not a privilege.
Join the conversation and share your thoughts on this important topic!