In our fast-paced and high-achieving society, sleep loss is one of the most undiagnosed health problems affecting Americans today. The National Institute of Health estimates that nearly 70 million people suffer from chronic sleep loss and wakeful disturbances correlated to a myriad of health problems including high blood pressure, obesity, depression, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
Lack of sleep also contributes to problems in daily life functioning, a known cause in many automobile accidents and on the job injuries, and a significant factor in errors in judgement, disharmonious family functioning and overall quality of life.
In comparing data from studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control over multiple decades, it was found that people are sleeping significantly less than they used to, with an increased percentage of adults sleeping less than six hours a night. Three decades ago, the majority of adults reported sleeping 7.7 hours a night.
There are approximately 90 different sleep disorders, which are marked by the common symptoms of daytime sleepiness, difficulty falling or staying asleep or unusual movements, behavior or sensations while sleeping. Yet the sleep loss epidemic is not solely caused by these disorders. Changes in societal work patterns and lifestyle are also a major contributor, with 20 percent of the workforce engaged in shift work and an increase in workers leaving their shifts between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. and increased access to television and the internet.
How much sleep is enough?
The average adult basal need falls somewhere between seven and eight hours of sleeping for sufficient rest, with children, preteens and teens needing upwards of nine or more hours. Unbeknownst to most people, the typical monophasic cycle of seven to eight hours in one stretch of sleeping is not the only way to achieve a satisfactory amount of sleep.
There is another type of sleep cycle, called biphasic sleep, in which two different sleep phases happen; one lasting 5-6 hours and another shorter cycle approximately 1.5 hours long. Both cycles allow for the individual to achieve the beneficial 7-8 hours of sleep, regardless of the fact that is is broken up.
While there are a few other alternative sleep cycles, they do not account for the recommended daily amount of sleep and are high risk for sleep deprivation. They should only be used in extreme circumstances.
Better habits, better sleep
Given that several of the most common causes of lack of sleep are modern advances in technology, you can help yourself achieve a more restful and deep sleep with a few changes to your nightly routine.
First, if you do not have a routine, create one that includes a specific amount of time in which you allow yourself to utilize breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to help your body prepare for sleep. You may also want to incorporate elements of aromatherapy and meditation to help you decompress from the events of the day.
It is also important to clear your bedroom of extraneous technological devices to ensure your sleep will not be disturbed. In addition to the lights and noises from these devices, they also emit various electronic signals that may affect your sleep even if you are not aware of it. It is extremely important to give yourself a specific time each night in which you stop the use of electronic devices including your mobile devices, the television and computer.
Lastly, it is best to keep your bedroom as dark as possible and free from artificial light. With these simple changes you are on your way to a better night’s sleep and a more enjoyable and productive day.