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Monday, March 12, 2012

5 reasons you aren't getting enough sleep (and what to do about it)!

Insomnia causes and cures.

Daylight Savings has officially begun and that means 3 things: (1) there is more daylight so there is more time to go out and play, (2) warmer weather is right around the corner, and (3) we all might be walking around a little more sleep deprived. Most of us are already a little behind the eight-ball when it comes to sleep, with nearly 30% of Americans reporting that they get fewer than 6 hours of sleep each night. And, it appears that all this springing ahead really messes with our sleep patterns.
A recent study reported that there is a 10% increased risk of suffering a heart attack in the days that follow setting your clock ahead. Experts aren’t exactly sure why this happens but they think it has to do with the interaction between sleep deprivation, immune function, and circadian rhythms. Although you can’t really do anything about daylight savings time, you can do something about the other reasons you aren’t getting enough sleep. Here are some common reasons you might be sleep deprived and what to do about it.
  1. Stress. Give me any illness or health concern and I’ll bet you we can trace it back to stress like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Sleep, or a lack thereof, is no different. Whether you can’t turn your brain off or you can’t relax physically (think racing heart or tense muscles), excess or chronic stress can keep you up at night. If you’re feeling especially tense, try to spend time unwinding before bed: take a warm bath, do some gentle stretching, journal to get your thoughts out of your head and on paper, do some deep breathing or meditation, or try progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique in which you create tension in your muscles so that you can help your body relax more completely. This technique can help you get a better night’s rest.
  2. Your sleep environment. Creating a serene, Zen-like bedroom may sound like the stuff of fairy tales, but putting a little effort into creating a peaceful place can help you get more and better sleep. Everything from de-cluttering your room to dimming the lights before bed can improve your sleep. And, while laptops, smart phones, and DVR’s keep you connected and entertained, a high-tech environment can positively wreck your sleep. One study found that most people are using their high tech gadgets in the hour before bed. These gadgets emit light and this light can interfere with a normal sleep/wake cycle. Their recommendation? Keep your cell phone and laptop out of the bedroom and power down all technology a little while before you get ready for bed. And, it probably wouldn’t hurt to skip your late-night TV shows either.
  3. Late night eating and drinking. Eating and drinking just before bed isn't just a favorite on the list of things not to do when you want to lose weight; it's also on the list of things keeping you up at night. Eating close to bedtime can cause heartburn or indigestion – both of which lead to discomfort and won’t induce a state of peaceful sleep. Sipping on a cup of hot tea, water, or another non-alcoholic beverage before bed might help you reach your hydration goal for the day, but it will also make you more likely to have to get out of bed to visit the bathroom. To get ensure a peaceful night’s sleep, limit your late night drinks and try to avoid eating after dinner.
  4. Caffeine, alcohol, and smoking. Are you surprised to see caffeine on the list of things that derail your sleep efforts? Probably not. After all, caffeine is a stimulant and its effects linger in your body for many hours after you sip your afternoon latte. But, many people are surprised to see that an evening nightcap won’t help you sleep well. Some sources report that alcohol consumed as many as 6 hours before bedtime will disrupt your sleep cycles. And, smokers beware: researchers in one study found that smokers report feeling less rested after the same amount of sleep as their non-smoking counterparts. They concluded that smokers likely experience nicotine withdrawal during the night, which disrupts their sleep patterns.
  5. Your sleep schedule is all over the place. All parenting resources preach the importance of establishing a routine for your kids. Yet, as adults, we’re up early one morning, stay up super late another night, and try to make up for it on the weekends. It’s time to channel some inner toddler and get a bedtime routine going. Most experts agree that establishing a regular bedtime will help your body get into a rhythm. And, sticking with that schedule even on the weekends is key. If you take this one step further and establish an entire bedtime routine (think: warm bath, relaxing music, curling up with a good book) your body will start to recognize the cues that it’s time to power-down and you’ll spend less time counting sheep.
If you want to sleep better, you’ve got to make it a priority. Many people don’t realize how important sleep really is and how dangerous are the side effects of deprivation. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 5% of people surveyed report nodding off while driving during the previous month. That's not only unhealthy, it's downright dangerous! So, take a good, long look at your evening routine and find at least one way you can get more sleep tonight. Sweet dreams!