“I need a nap.” How many times have you either said this yourself or heard someone else say it?….
Ok, stop counting.
You get the point. The answer is a lot. Our parents all told us (or at least mine did) to get 8 hours of sleep each night. And while studies have shown that people do better with exactly that (7-9 hours nightly) (thanks Mom!), the best way to know if you are getting enough sleep is if you feel rested when you wake up and are able to make it through your day without falling asleep unintentionally. Unfortunately, it is estimated that over 60 percent of the population has some trouble sleeping a few nights per week.
Which means most of us aren’t getting enough sleep. And sleep is a vital part of your health. A lack of sleep can lead to a multitude of issues. Initially in the mild stages of sleep deprivation, people tend to become irritable and have difficulty concentrating. In worsening situations, people tend to fall into micro sleep – when a person will fall asleep for 5-10 seconds at a time during the day. If you have ever been sitting somewhere and suddenly feel that you just woke up and don’t remember the past few seconds, then you have probably experienced this phenomenon. These episodes become particularly dangerous while driving. Approximately 35% of the population experiences this every month. It has been said that driving while tired is as dangerous as driving while drunk.
So why do so many people have trouble sleeping? I blame Thomas Edison. People are not designed to be nocturnal creatures. Before the invention of the light bulb, people would go to sleep when it got dark. Sure there were candles before this, but if you have ever done anything by candlelight you would know that if it wasn’t really important, it could wait until morning. Unfortunately, now we have light bulbs and can stay up until all hours of the night – and sometimes don’t go to bed until the sun is coming up. This severely throws off our circadian rhythm (sleep cycle).
Now I know it’s not realistic to go to bed shortly after the sun goes down for everyone, but there are some things you can do to help you get a better night’s sleep:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Yes this even includes weekends.
Make sure that the time you set to go to bed is a least 8 hours from when you need to wake up. Don’t watch TV or spend time in bed that isn’t associated with sleep. The more you use your bedroom for sleep and only sleep the better your body will make that association and it will be easier to fall asleep once you are in bed. (Yes I realize that there are certain intimate activities that may typically occur in bed and that is perfectly fine. I’m not saying that those have to be taken into the living room.)
Avoid sleep aid medications. While there are some circumstances where they are needed, the more you use them the more your body will have trouble getting to sleep without them. Some reduce the amount of REM sleep that you get, which is when your brain restores itself.
Read a book for at least 1/2 hour before bedtime. Books are a relaxing way to help let you unwind a little before you lay down. E-readers that are not backlit are also ok, but computers are not a good idea. The lighting on computers is stimulating to the brain.
Partake in daily physical activities at least 3-4 hours before bedtime. If you exercise just before you lay down, it may be hard to go to sleep right away because it takes time for your body to unwind from that level of stimulation.
Avoid any caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime.
If your try these and are still having trouble, I would recommend speaking with your doctor. There are a multitude of medical conditions that could affect your sleep and energy levels. The sooner that you can start consistently getting a good night’s rest the healthier you will be for it.