An estimated 100+ million Americans have occasional sleep problems, of which 40 million have so-called “sleep disorders”, and over 75% of the population is walking around deprived of sleep on a daily basis. Studies show it only is getting worse with each passing decade, and there are no signs of the situation becoming any better. In fact, over the past 5 years alone there has been a startling 33% increase in those of us reporting trouble sleeping! Can you imagine what statistics in another decade will be like? Unfortunately, it does not look like we are heading in the right direction.
In our busy, fast-paced society, it seems we are constantly moving, thinking, and trying to get “more” done. The first thing many of us think of doing when we do have so-called “free time” is to catch up on a little TV or do some activity that we have “not had the time to do”, aside from catching up on our sleep. And greater quality and quantity sleep is exactly what most of us really need.
Sleep studies clearly show that not receiving the quality and quantity sleep affects our lives in negative ways, sometimes greatly. It can change the way we see and experience our lives and the world around us in dramatic ways.
Some of the following can help us identify when we might not be achieving enough quality sleep each night:
- Feelings of tiredness at some point throughout the day
- Falling asleep within a few minutes when going to bed
- Decreases in levels of intolerance and increased levels of hostility
- Reduced ability to concentrate
- Slowed reflexes
- Impaired judgment
- Unusual weight gain or loss
- Change in body temperatures that lead to feelings of chilliness
- Unusual levels of anxiety
- Falling asleep when inappropriate
- Reduced creativity
- Reduced ability to think logically or handle complex tasks
- Increased levels of self-consciousness with increased levels of anxiety
If you find any of these attributes apply to you, you might want to sleep a little longer or sounder each night.
Amazingly, one of the quickest ways to improve the quality of our lives and waking hours, as the statistics show, is to simply get a better night’s sleep. It is such a simple answer to such a complex problem.
If you are having troubles falling asleep, there are things you can do that can help you very quickly. Yes, the following might seem obvious to many folks, but sometimes we miss the obvious. So, let’s cover some quick and easy ones first.
Two Things to Avoid: Caffeine and Nicotine
Reduce the levels of caffeine used throughout the day. Studies show that people who have insomnia already have a higher metabolic rate (typically 9%) than those who are sleeping normally. It would take about 4 cups of coffee to raise a normal sleepers metabolism to the same rate. From this metabolic indicator, although the person with insomnia does not feel wide awake and shows all the signs of not achieving enough sleep, we can see that a person who intakes caffeine actually on average is highly physiologically aroused. After all, caffeine is a stimulant!
The short of it…reduce the levels of caffeine intake throughout the day. Obviously, we are not going to say quit totally, even though it can help. Of course, the last thing you want to do is drink the caffeine within a few hours (three or more) before attempting to go to sleep.
List of items, both food and beverages, that may contain caffeine:
- Coffee – Brewed (drip or percolated), Instant, Many so-called “decaffeinated” coffees
- Tea – Brewed (drip or percolated), Instant, Many so-called “decaffeinated” coffees
- Chocolate (Light, Dark, Baker’s, etc.): Beverage or Food. This includes hot chocolate milk
- Most Sodas: Including “Diet” and “Clear” Sodas – Coke, Diet Coke, Mr. PIBB, RC Cola, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi, Canada Dry, and many others
Next, nicotine intake can have a dramatic affect on our ability to get a good night’s rest. Just like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant. Smoking is the primary way of ingesting nicotine. Smoking can raise blood pressure, stimulate brainwave activity, and increase heart rate.
Studies have shown that smokers actually have greater difficulties falling asleep and wake more times during the night. It is possible the later is a symptom of withdrawal. And, when people have quit smoking after regularly smoking from 1 to 3 packs of cigarettes a day over at least a two year period of time, studies have clearly found it is easier to fall asleep and sleep more soundly with less awakenings at night.
Obviously people are not going to just quit smoking, as most who have the habit realize how addictive it really can be. So, maybe lessen your smoking intake and only do it a certain points during the day. Try not to have any cigarettes close to bedtime and try, like the case with caffeine, to limit your usage to several hours before bedtime, which can help greatly. If you want to quickly work toward getting a better night’s sleep and you smoke cigarettes, then to quit smoking is one of the quickest ways to help achieve your goal.
Bedroom Sleep Tips
There are many more things we can do, to achieve a better night’s sleep, including taking a look at different aspects of our bedroom or sleep environments. Many of the following list will be subjective, so you will want to find out by focusing on a few and making small changes through time to what personally works for you.
- Bed Sheets: comfort… silk may be romantic, but not always practical. Your sheets should “breathe” well.
- Room Temperature: not too hot and not too cold. Some people find it easier to keep the room cold and wrap up warmly in their bed sheets. If your feet are cold… easy enough… wear socks.
- Noise or Sound: the less the better, although some people might consider an underlying, constant sound to help with sleep.
- Humidity: If you find your throat is scratchy/sore, your skin feels dry, or you have congested sinus passages, it might be because your room is too dry. If you feel warm, sweaty, and moist, you might want to see if there is too much humidity in the room.
- Lighting: the darker the better.
- Drafts: some people like a draft, while it bothers others. Keep an eye on this one for sore through or tight chest while sleeping. It might mean you have a draft in the room. If you can, open a window and let in some fresh air, as air can become stale while stagnant.
- Cleanliness: Ok, simple… keep it clean. This can keep the air fresh and help with sleep.
- Bed Equals Sleep: Use and associate your bed with sleeping only and not other activities. Read or do your “home” work somewhere else… not in bed. Associating the bed with something like work or even TV can keep us up at night. Associating it with relaxing activities, sleep or even sex, can help us fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly at night.
- Clocks: the click-click-click of mechanical clocks, the brightness from digital clocks, or just having a clock in front of us can be a distraction. For some, the constant sound of clicking might actually be good for sleep.
- Pillows and Mattresses: Take your time and find what will work for you. The new memory foam pillows, although sometimes seemingly expensive can be worth every penny. Make sure they are high quality products, high-density (approx. 5lbs. per cubic foot) memory foam, as there are a lot of cheap, lightweight memory foam pillows on the market today. With your mattress, take your time and make sure you can test run a bed at home, so you can take it back if yours does not work for you.
- Biggest sleep tip of all: Take your time and BE PATIENT with yourself. See what works best for you. It’s worth the effort. Simply reading each of the above can help make you conscious of ways you might not have noticed in the past, and this will lead to improve your own life, by achieving a better night’s sleep. Take your time and be patient.
These are just a few things about our sleep context that can help us achieve a better night’s sleep and improve the quality of our lives.
As the statistics clearly show, most of us are walking around half awake every day, which means in all probability we are not living a higher quality of life we could be and other areas of our lives can suffer. Both psychical and psychological problems can arise by not achieving enough quality sleep.
Take the above tips and run with them. Take your time, be patient, and find what has helped others and how you can help yourself improve the quality of your life through a better night’s sleep. It’s time stop the growth and reverse America’s easily unnoticed sleep epidemic.